Despite close physical proximity, island nations in the Caribbean historically have struggled to communicate because of the limitations of their current telecommunications systems. Long-distance telephone calls lead to exorbitant bills, and innovations like voice-over IP have yet to gain a firm hold. Internet service is available, but not always reliable.
Introducing these nations to wireless grids would enable them to break free from their geographic constraints. Wireless grids, or resource-sharing networks, allow technological devices such as sensors, mobile phones, and computers to communicate with each other and with traditional wired grids. These technologies would make collaborations between island nations easier, and these countries could embark on joint political projects that would have been previously impossible. In embracing technology and taking on new roles, these countries would become what are known as mobile regions.
The creation of such mobile regions is just one of the uses for wireless grids that will be at the forefront of the 4th Caribbean Internet Forum from November 1 through 3 in Point Salines, Grenada. Held concurrently with the Internet Governance Forum in Athens, the Caribbean conference will aims to address internet governance on a local level and will include discussions of how technologies like wireless grids can act as a source of economic growth and increased information access for Caribbean nations.
The software used to create and run wireless grids is being developed by Lee McKnight, a professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies and president of the Wireless Grids Corporation. The company's software, called Atrium, is designed to make the sharing of resources as simple and intuitive as possible.
David Grandinetti, senior architect at Wireless Grids, demonstrates how Atrium works by pointing to two laptops sitting together on a table. One's Grenada, he says as he opens the program, and one's David. Almost instantaneously, Grenada displays a message announcing that it has recognized David. David responds in kind. The two computers have both joined the same wireless grid and are ready to share photos, printers, and screens and they've done it without the use of IP addresses, URLs, or other traditional electronic locators.
It's the equivalent of a person walking into a room and yelling I'm here!' Grandinetti says. Devices on a wireless grid make announcements about their capabilities and other devices, which are listening for messages, respond by recognizing and linking up with them. Users are saved the hassle of manually configuring their devices and benefit from access to hardware, software, and content hosted by other devices.
McKnight, along with School of Information Studies doctoral students Jeff Owens and Mawaki Chango, will demonstrate Atrium at the Caribbean forum and propose ways the software might benefit developing nations. In addition to the creation of political mobile regions, Owens says wireless grids may also help stretch Internet resources. Users of mobile phones one of the most common means of accessing the web outside of the United States may eventually be able to join wireless grids that will provide them access to everything from printers to MP3s through links with more powerful systems.
It's a way to extend access through simple, cheap devices, Owens says. He compares the current state of technology in many Caribbean nations to that of some areas in the United States. Despite the widespread availability of cable television, Internet access, and cell phone service in most parts of the country, pockets still exist where access to these technologies is spotty, or even not existent. In developing regions, the disparity between areas that are equipped for technology and those that that aren't is much more dramatic than in the United States. The implementation of wireless grid technologies in Caribbean nations would help ease this divide by sharing electronic resources among larger groups of people.
While the Caribbean Internet Forum will focus chiefly on telecommunications policy, Grandinetti says the wireless grid demonstration will serve as a dose of tangible aid in the midst of so many abstract discussions. Altruism was one of the things the Internet was originally built on, he says. Most of our goals are human-oriented. We want people to think differently about the way they use technology.