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Cell towers may become obsolete

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

April 28, 2015

The cell phone may be the cell tower of the future- at least that is what is being suggested in a recent article by CNBC. It is reported that a single chip-small enough to fit into a handset may at some point mimic an entire cell tower.

At first blush it seems like it may be a good idea. I mean who wouldn’t want to see the demise of those ubiquitous, unsightly towers? It could also put an end to speculation about the potentially harmful microwaves emanating from them, but if history teaches us anything, it is to look beneath the surface at more possibly substantive problems.

Before we celebrate the death of deadzones, dropped calls, and patch signals, let’s take a closer look at the issue. Firstly, it’s going to require a large amount of spectrum – which is finite – it can’t be produced., although the military is a possible source of spectrum, and could satisfy the required space. Additional capacity could be realized by phones communicating with each other – in effect piggy-backing off each other.

This technology might prevent terrorists or cybercriminals from interrupting cell tower signals and destroying communication channels, but the same might also be true of natural disasters- no loss of communication.

The further development of the technology may obviate the potential for any one large company dominating the communications scene. Steve Papa of founder of Parallel Wireless opined,

Who’s going to be in charge is more of a political question than a technology or industry structure question. The reality is that technology will make spectrum less scarce. When spectrum is less scarce, there’s less of a need for a natural monopoly.”

With all the recent negative press about Stingrays and their ability to mimic cell towers to the detriment of privacy, one has to wonder what would become of this clandestine tool of law enforcement. Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if the technology was rendered impotent and ineffective? One can only hope. Suffice to say, the possibilities not only pique ones interest, but also spur the imagination.