By Greg Mills

When Thomas Edison invented the telephone, he and his associates just strung wire between the phones, no matter how far apart they were. Each city had one or more switching stations so wires between cities could be hooked up between users and the long distance lines on each end.  

Remember long distance phone bills? I can remember not that long ago playing musical phone companies to get the lowest prices for long distance. In those days long distance was often more than your local service each month.

What changed all that was the simple notion that the owners of long distance lines ought to be forced to share that capacity with competing services. The FCC made it competitive for companies that got into the long-distance business since they all had access to what had been a monopoly owned by AT&T. That was the giant AT&T of 20 years ago. The AT&T of today is a radically different animal.

The same notion of looking at Internet connections as “dumb pipes” has led to Voice-over-Internet long distance services like Skype and others. I have Earthlink’s “TrueVoice” phone service over TimeWarner’s Cable internet service. We get free unlimited calls to the US and a number of countries. We also can make local calls, of course.  

I pay US$19 a month plus about $7 of taxes, fees and nickel and dime charges each month. My wife calls her sister in Florida and they yack for hours in Philippino. It costs us nothing if we call her. TimeWarner’s Internet service is a dumb pipe. They have no control over how we use the bandwidth, and it is unlimited — except that it is slow by modern standards.

Google is planning a 1Gig symmetrical fiber internet service in Kansas City, Kansas, soon. That fast Internet will also allow interesting uses of unlimited bandwidth at incredible speeds. The speed of Internet service is sort of like the diameter of pipes. I have a 1/3-acre fishing pond behind my house and when I put in the spillway I used a 12-inch diameter culvert. Once or twice a year the dam overflows, since the pipe can only handle so many gallons of water and the rest overflows. Going from TimeWarner’s 6 Meg a second cable modem to Googles 1000 Meg a second fiber would be like replacing the 12-inch culvert with a 6-foot diameter culvert. No more dam overflows.  

Some of these Voice-over-Internet services rely upon computers rather than hooking up directly to the Internet. I have a MagicJack device and for $19 a year I can make and receive calls over Internet using that little USB device. A number of similar concepts are in use that allow computers to hook up with video conferencing services. Apple’s FaceTime is developing the same sort of Internet computer-to-commuter communications network.  

Enter the micro cell device that makes a cell phone something like a cordless phone.  The minutes on a cell phone are the last vestige of the notion of time on the phone even being relevant. If you consider the relatively small amount of data that is transmitted with a voice connection and a tiny amount of data required for text messages, you can see why the cellular networks are attempting to maintain their go-to-market plan that include limits on minutes used and limiting data.

The FCC is working to open up the cell networks the way they opened up wire years ago.  Considering the airwaves are public domain and the licenses cellular networks obtain from the government create a power to control those networks policies, one can see the handwriting on the wall. The FCC is likely to open things up even more as time goes on. The net neutrality issues threatens to break the strangle hold the networks have over the airwaves.

Microsoft wants to connect the dots — Windows Mobile 7, Nokia handsets, RIM handsets and now Skype all hooked up to try to keep up with Apple.  Apple has been working on a novel concept of buying excess cellular capacity from various carriers and reselling it in a network that relies upon the Internet and, no doubt, the massive new data center that is just coming online.  Apple might soon offer a competitive cell phone plan that would compete with the existing carriers without building a single cell tower.  

The revolution in communications goes on. Another day, another merger. Microsoft doesn’t have the deep pockets Apple has, so the pressure to make it all work for the bottom line is on Steve Ballmer’s head. Spending 8.5 billion dollars to buy Skype and paying Nokia a billion dollars to use WIndows 7 seems like desperation rather than an innovative, original business plan.

Thats’ Greg’s Bite for today. 

(Greg Mills is currently a graphic and Faux Wall Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. Greg is an Extra Class Ham Radio Operator, AB6SF, iOS developer and web site designer. He’s also working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process for turning waste dual pane glass window units into thermal solar panels used to heat water see: Married, with one daughter, Greg writes for intellectual property web sites and on Mac/Tech related issues. See Greg’s art web site at He can be emailed at )