Wired and Wireless Technologies

“What is in the air will go into the ground and what is in the ground will go into the air."

(Nicholas Negroponte, former director of MIT's Media Lab, 1995)1

This phenomenon is known today as the Negroponte Switch: what was once wired is now wireless, and vice versa.2 The transition began with the development of cable television in the 1970s, picked up speed with the diffusion of the Internet between 1970 and 2000, and became ubiquitous with the rapid growth of mobile phone networks worldwide after 1990. Television evolved as an over-the-air broadcast system between 1930 and 1970, but is increasingly a wired service provided by cable systems (and now over the Internet as IPTV). Telephony was a hard-wired service from its creation in the late 1800s until mobile radio phones were developed after World War II. The switch is not universal as there are still outliers to the model such as direct broadcast satellite (DBS) television services and telephone conversations using wired Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies such as Skype and Vonage. The point is that once voice or media content is digitized, it can be transmitted either through wires or through the air. Most non-satellite digital wireless transmissions are 60 miles or less (and less than ten miles for mobile phones) and almost all transcontinental Internet traffic uses undersea ...

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