Fixing Our Single-Minded Radios
When it comes to networking, our computers and mobile devices today are disturbingly single-minded. In an era of multi-core smartphone CPUs and multithreaded operating systems, why, when we connect to the Internet, must we choose between a WiFi and a cellular connection? And why must we make that decision separately for every device?
For a clear-thinking geek, it’s annoying and archaic. So of course, there are companies working to rectify the single-minded nature of device connectivity. The big question, though, is how many geeks or purists there are, and if there are enough of them to support the cool multi-connection products that are on the market or coming soon.
I refer to Open Garden and Connectify in particular. I’ve covered Open Garden before. It lets computers share connection paths to the Internet. So if one of your devices (say, your smartphone) has a good 4G connection, but another (your laptop) does not, then the laptop can hop onto the smartphone’s link, via a Bluetooth channel. Open Garden configures the network paths and how your devices cooperate as needed. It’s really cool.
The newer Connectify also offers a network sharing app, Hotspot, but it will be adding, this year, a new automatic channel bonding service called Dispatch. This new app will let a device use all the routes to the Net it has access to, for increasing the speed and robustness of connections. Sitting in a conference suffering from poor cellular reception and crowded, slow WiFi? Dispatch will merge the channels together to improve your network. If one channel drops, you’ll stay online. Want the best possible performance? Stick a second WiFi radio into a laptop’s open USB port, and double your WiFi performance. Better yet, put it on another network.
Connectify doesn’t do the OpenGarden trick of automatically distributing connections between devices, “but I think we will,” CEO Alex Gizis told me. Conversely, OpenGarden doesn’t do channel bonding like Connectify, but the company has announced that it will.
It’s all very cool stuff. Both OpenGarden and Connectify give you more flexibility, performance, and automation than you’ll get from an operating system’s built-in networking utilities. The business opportunity is definitely there — for what I think is a smallish segment of the consumer public. Gizis from Connectify gets this: “There’s clearly demand,” he says, “but I don’t think I’m going to get my mom to use it.” Still, for users tired of having to tinker with their connections whenever their signal isn’t five by five, or who want to find a way to pay a carrier just once for a cellular connection and then take full advantage of it across their devices, companies like these do offer a more efficient use of networking resources.
What we can really hope for, though, is that carriers and manufacturers start to use technologies like these to improve their devices’ radios and service plans. They can certainly do better than what they’re offering now.
Details if you want to try these: OpenGarden is free for Android, Windows, and Mac. Connectify Hotspot is available for Windows (free and premium). Connectify Dispatch will be out soon for Windows and is coming later to other platforms.
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