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Four Ways to Get Online from Anywhere

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The Internet is an integral part of our lives – some of us are probably more dependent on it than we would like to be. Fortunately, the market offers plenty of ways to access the Internet anywhere — either through a travel modem, a satellite dish, or a free public hotspot. Of course, these options are not really interchangeable, with each occupying its own niche. Below is a close look at the popular ways of getting online, along with highlights of their strengths and weaknesses.

How to Get Internet Anywhere in the World?

Strictly speaking, the only way to get online from anywhere is through a satellite Internet connection. The satellite method has been a media darling for the last few years thanks to the still ongoing Starlink project. However, satellite Internet providers have actually been on the market for quite some time now.

The biggest advantage of this option is availability. With satellites, there’s no need for laying trunk lines or having a massive tower — all you need is the sky above (so yes, it often doesn’t work in a cave — at least without an antenna). A satellite makes it a perfect match for remote areas and regions with underdeveloped communication infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the sky is not exactly an industry-grade data transfer medium and will create interference by simply acting like nature. Various forms of precipitation and other weather conditions can deteriorate the quality of the satellite signal.

And the drawbacks do not end there. Getting a satellite signal, let alone sending data yourself, requires much larger equipment than a portable WiFi device — think a sizeable dish plus a satellite modem. In other words, this is by no means an easy portable solution.

WiFi Everywhere You Go: Public Hotspots

A more realistic way of getting wireless Internet anywhere is by connecting to an available WiFi hotspot. Such hotspots come in two varieties — free WiFi provided by various amenities and services that offer connection for a fee.

The former is a familiar option that can be found at your local Starbucks or in the airport. However, while it is free, it rarely works at decent speeds sufficient only for simple activities like messaging and checking mail. More importantly, to get a secure Internet connection from a cafe, you are expected to know how to stay safe on public WiFi. Even with all the precautions, you’ll still be better off using a travel modem for sensitive operations like online banking.

The second option is somewhat more intricate. Recently, several startups came up with the idea of a service that lets users rent unused Internet bandwidth. This is actually a clever idea that, theoretically, should benefit everyone. Unfortunately, it is still in its infancy, so the coverage is quite scarce. Cost-efficiency is also far from optimal – sometimes, the Internet comes at a higher price than simply using your own WiFi anywhere device. In other words, it is a promising direction to look into but not a reliable method as of now.

Hotspot for Laptop: Mobile Tethering

It may not have occurred to you, but you are already carrying around a pocket WiFi — your phone. You can turn it into a WiFi hotspot for your laptop or any other device that works with the wireless network protocol by using mobile tethering. This can be especially handy if you can’t accomplish the task through the phone directly — for example, when you have software on your PC that you need to communicate with a server.

Modern phones also support several simultaneous connections, so you can share the Internet with several friends or co-workers.

Keep in mind, however, that it comes at a cost. For starters, it requires a working mobile connection, so it’s not exactly an international pocket WiFi. Even with no roaming involved, the total bandwidth of such a connection will be limited by your data plan.

On top of that, mobile tethering is taxing for the device, so be ready for a drained battery after prolonged use. In other words, it is a handy backup plan but not a particularly universal one.

Devices to Get Internet Anywhere: Mobile Modems

Perhaps the most versatile and convenient solution for going online from anywhere is a portable WiFi device. In broad terms, it is a middle ground between a satellite modem and a tethered connection. A modern travel modem is a lightweight, energy-efficient device that supports multiple connections, works with several data plans, and may come with integrated security measures like a built-in VPN.

Of course, it is still limited by its data plan’s bandwidth and connection speed. However, a dedicated travel WiFi device will probably offer several options to choose from. It will also not work without cellular coverage, which may be an issue for sparsely populated areas. Otherwise, when it comes to using WiFi internationally, it strikes a balance between convenience and reliability.

Wrapping Up

There is no shortage of ways to get online nowadays, with new creative options emerging nearly every year. Some are suitable for casual browsing, while others require industry-grade equipment. It is totally reasonable to expect that in the near future, we will have services that are more secure, convenient, affordable, and powerful than anything we have now.

However, even today, it is possible to choose the one that suits you perfectly — you just need to know what you are looking for.

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Why IoT Needs an Open Ecosystem to Succeed

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Imagine if the internet had been built as a closed ecosystem controlled by a small set of organizations. It would look very different from the internet we know and rely on today. Perhaps this alternate version would run on a pay-per-use model, or lack tools and services that have been developed over the years by independent contributors and scrappy startups. Here is why IoT needs an open ecosystem to succeed.

The Open Internet

Instead, of a closed internet — we mostly enjoy an open internet. This is in part due to its origins: the internet was built to be fundamentally open, and this is what has allowed it to grow, change, and be adopted as quickly as it has been. In fact, the trend of an open approach propelling innovation is one that we see repeatedly for emerging technologies.

When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), we’re at the precipice of a similar innovation boom as witnessed with the internet.

IoT is slated for explosive growth: by 2021, Gartner expects that 25 billion connected things will be in use, enabling our smart homes, factories, vehicles, and more.

As more and more IoT devices come online, edge computing will become a necessity. Edge computing enables data to be processed and analyzed in real-time for business-critical use cases, such as self-driving cars, safety and security, and industrial automation.

As with the internet, we need an open, consistent infrastructure foundation for IoT and edge computing in order for these technologies to reach their full potential. While the challenges of building an open IoT are different than those we faced with building an open internet, this is an important problem for our industry to solve now, before we witness further fragmentation and vendor lock-in.

Where we are today with IoT

We’re currently in what I like to call the “AOL stage� of IoT—the phase of getting devices connected at scale, and working through the balance of proprietary vs. open approaches.

Back in the 1990s, America Online opened up access to the internet to the masses with an easy-to-use CD; by popping it in, anyone could easily sign up and get connected. However, the tradeoff for this simplicity was getting locked into the AOL ecosystem as the conduit for communication and search.

Over time, users became savvier, realizing they could connect to the internet directly through their ISPs and access more powerful search capabilities (Google, for example). As more people came online through their medium of choice, innovation picked up speed, giving birth to the internet boom and the ecosystem we know today.

IoT is inherently heterogeneous and diverse, made up of a wide variety of technologies and domain-specific use cases.

To date, the market has created a dizzying landscape of proprietary IoT platforms to connect people and operations, each with wildly different methods for data collection, security, and management. It’s like having many different “AOLs� trying to connect devices to the internet—needless to say, this fragmentation has resulted in unnecessary complications.

Companies beginning their IoT journeys are locked in with the vendor they start with, and will be subject to additional costs or integration issues when they look to scale deployments and take on new use cases. Simply put, IoT’s diversity has become a hindrance to its own growth. 

To avoid going down this path, we must build an open ecosystem as our foundation for IoT and edge computing. It’s only when open standards are set that we can scale the commercialization of offerings and services, and focus on realizing ROI.

Open ecosystems facilitate scale

What would an open ecosystem for IoT look like? When creating an ecosystem, there’s a spectrum of approaches you can take, ranging from closed to open philosophies. Closed ecosystems are based on closely governed relationships, proprietary designs, and, in the case of software, proprietary APIs.

The tight control of closed ecosystems sometimes referred to as “walled gardens,� can provide great customer experience, but come with a premium cost and less choice. Apple is a widely cited example of this approach. 

There are open approaches that offer APIs and tools that you can openly program.

The open approach tools enable an ecosystem of products and services where the value is derived from the sum of its parts.

Open-source software like Android is an example; it’s a key driver of a truly open, vendor-neutral ecosystem because of how it empowers developers. Having an open standard like Android’s operating system for developers to build upon not only promotes further innovation but also bolsters a network effect. 

To fully grasp the business trade-offs of closed vs. open ecosystems, let’s compare Android and Apple’s iOS. While Apple provides a curated experience, Android device makers have less control over the overall experience through deep software/hardware integration, and therefore need to find other differentiators.

Nevertheless, openness facilitates choice and scale—Android has over 70 percent of the global mobile OS market share. Even with Android’s openness, providers like Samsung have still been able to carve out market share by investing in innovation and a broader device ecosystem strategy.

An open future for the IoT

The IoT can have as great of an impact as the internet has had, but generating hundreds of closed, siloed ecosystems dictated by vendor choice is not the path to scale. A bright future for IoT is dependent upon our ability to come together as an industry to build an open ecosystem as our foundation.

Across hardware, operating systems, connectivity, applications, and cloud, we must bridge key elements and unify, rather than reinvent, standards in order to empower developers to focus on value creation.

Commercial offerings built on top of that open foundation may very well take a more “closed� approach; however, starting development with an open foundation will always provide the most scalability, flexibility, and transparency to maximize options for the long term.

Open-source collaboration is an excellent accelerator for this open foundation. The Linux Foundation’s LF Edge and Kubernetes IoT Edge Working Group, and the Eclipse Foundation’s IoT and Edge Native Working Groups are just a few of the initiatives exploring architectures and building frameworks to unite industry efforts and enable IoT and edge computing ecosystems to scale.

As they say, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, and I look forward to seeing the immense potential of becoming a reality when we have a common foundation to innovate on.

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