First Monday

It's the first Monday of 2005, and the moment I switch on my Blackberry, I immerse myself in the bustle of corporate activity even as my taxi shuffles through the surprisingly light riverside traffic. Network reports from New Year's pour in as we drive past the scrawny trees by the railroad, their long, angular shadows a reminder that no matter the clear sky, winter is still with us for a while.

I sift through the messages on the tiny screen, glossing over automated reports to get at insightful commentary from people who have been looking at the data for longer, slicing and dicing until causality and patterns emerge. I fire off a couple of replies and while away the rest of the ride pecking through my newspipe listing, my calendar mercifully clear for today. I come across a lot of references to the latest Cory Doctorow extravaganza, and re-read the latest hairball spun from his own personal anti-DRM manifesto as my cab swerves gently around the potholes:

Thirty years ago, everything I am doing would have been impossible. There was no mobile network, no e-mail, no intranet, no Exchange, no writhing mass of A HREF tags linking the Internet together. There were no knowledge workers, no instant access to data, no RSS for twitchy information junkies. Even the Lisbon riverside was not there - at least not the portion towards which I'm heading.

And yet, today we take such things as granted, and make a big deal of bandwidth, mobile music, DRM - rich kids' toys, the concerns of those who take too much for granted and who think abstract concepts are the only frontier even as people still starve on faraway, anonymous countries that don't happen to get much TV coverage anymore.

Information might want to be free, but we routinely shun common sense in either restricting it and broadcasting it, all the while glossing over the simple fact that ninety per cent of the people around us couldn't care less - or if they do, that they are still struggling to understand what happened to technology over the last ten years, and that there are more important things to fix.

I should know. Nigh on six years ago (on an April 1st, a fitting date if there ever was one) I joined the mobile industry, at a time when ISDN was cooling off and 3G technology was something 3GPP was still trying to turn into meaningful specs. Many people still say they didn't succeed in that regard, even as people walk the streets carrying the first usable generation of handsets.

I saw it emerge, know it works and am fully aware that it will have to coexist with everything else for years to come. There will be no GSM killers, no Wi-Fi guerrilla. 3G will get faster, deliver more and more entertainment services, have funkier and sexier handsets, but it will have to coexist with the rest of the communications technologies mankind has deployed over the past 10 years or so.

It will not solve everyone's problems, but it will be a significant improvement over what we have. It will actually help fix a few things, too (like positioning and mobile data), as well as become much cheaper - but over quite some time, much to the chagrin of the pie-in-the-sky "free bandwidth" pundits who still don't understand the costs involved in rolling out and maintaining a mobile network.

Welcome to the first "official" 3G year. Oddly enough, I believe in its success.