Mobile Ad Hoc Networks: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Wires!
Computers and their network communication links are increasingly mobile and wireless today; how might that influence the kind of computing we do tomorrow?
An ad hoc network is one that forms as needed, as the opportunity presents itself. Given standard communication protocols and a market that settles down long enough that the majority of users are compatible with one another, there may be some interesting scenarios in our future.
The handheld device is everywhere. Be it the Web-enabled cellular telephone or personal digital assistant (PDA) technology, people seem hungry for fast and easy access to information. Users must often connect through a cell site to a base station, through an Internet service provider, to a compatible Web site to get what they want. Many service providers are attuned to this need and are moving information closer to the user, making it at once cheaper for the user and more profitable for the provider.
This concept can be stretched to its ultimate conclusion: eliminate the central provider and let each user become a provider of the small cache of information he or she has accumulated to date. (This assumes that the handheld device has a lot of storage, of course, but we're speculating here.) If someone wanted to know the location of the nearest Italian restaurant, for example, when he arrived at an unfamiliar airport, throngs of people, many of whom are local to the area and many who have been in the area long enough to already know this information, can supply that information. Their own PDAs interact with the requesting user's device, and they negotiate a micropenny cost, transferring the data along with the financial update. That's one scenario, anyway. Here's another.
You are driving to a nearby city for a meeting in two hours. While it's not a critical meeting, you would prefer not to be late. As you drive, your car's computer notes traffic conditions along the way (knowing exactly where it is through GPS) and accumulates travel times through road construction, small city traffic, and so on. Many of the other cars coming toward you as you drive are doing the same thing, and some of them are coming from almost exactly where you are headed. Your car knows why you are traveling (from the calendar on your PDA) and sends queries to the oncoming traffic. Each car that has relevant information to sell takes part in a transaction similar to the one at the airport. You car alerts you to a major accident ahead and recommends that you take the next exit, directing you around the slow-down.
Digital music fans may remember downloading from a central server that was shut down for legal reasons. The central server morphed into a central broker that allowed users to swap digital music files with one another. If all of these users were on a closed, dedicated network, there would be no need for a broker. Each user could broadcast a "want list" and respond to the want lists of others. No one user has all the files, yet all the files would be instantly available. The data resides in a partitioned, distributed database whose content is shared among the clients, who form ad hoc networks among themselves until their exchanges are complete.