Imagine a world where you’ve got persistent connectivity to all the public and private data you need to access on a daily basis. Your network connections understand the context for what you are doing, providing the connection and access to the data you need at the time you need it. In this world, your connection is also smart enough to switch between WiFi and cellular data depending on which mode is best for your immediate situation. And no matter which device or devices you have with you, you can access what you need.
HP looks at the devices we use, our available connectivity, our persistent access to data stored in the cloud and the context in which we use all three as our mobile personal grid.
We have all the components for this grid today, but nothing that delivers a truly seamless context-aware mobile experience. On a recent visit to the HP executive briefing center, I got to see how HP Labs is working to make this experience a reality.
Intelligent Network Switching
If you’re anything like me, you probably have some kind of computing device with you all the time. You may have also noticed that connecting to the best available connection at any given time is a pain.
For example, there are times where I connect to the free WiFi at local coffee shops. That WiFi is generally faster than the data connection provided by my cellular data service, but not always. When the WiFi connection performs worse than my cellular data connection, I need to manually switch back to data in order to have the best connection possible.
In a perfect world my phone or a service acting as my proxy would make that switch for me automatically.
HP Networking and Communications Labs envisions each of us having what they call an “avatar” to act as a persistent digital presence that monitors resources and preserves your privacy. This avatar establishes context and makes changes to your connectivity depending on where you are, what you are doing, and how you are doing it.
My coffee shop example above is just one possible example of how an avatar could make networking better.
Intelligent Battery Monitoring
One of the most practical examples given during the demo I saw at HP was intelligent switching between connection options to prevent unnecessary battery drainage. Picture a scenario where you have three devices with you – an iPhone, an Android phone, and a tablet computer. This is easy for me to picture as I find myself in meetings almost every day where I’m surrounded by people with at least 3 devices.
For purposes of this example, imagine that the tablet is WiFi only while the two smartphones both have a data connection and WiFi. You want all three to be connected to the Internet as close to 100% of the time as possible. For the two phones, this is easier because they switch between any WiFi connection and the cellular data connection fairly seamlessly in most cases. For the tablet, this means relying on an available hotspot or tethering to one of the phones.
When you tether a tablet computer to your phone, the phone battery drains faster. In the HP Labs demo, they showed that the avatar recognized one phone battery reaching critical levels and automatically switched the tablet tether to the second phone instead, reducing the overall battery drain on the first phone.
Another scenario presented during my visit with HP Labs was the concept of Hotspot 2.0. In our current world, connectivity is what I consider fairly dumb. My cellular data connection is the default connectivity for my mobile devices. Smart connectivity amounts to checking for available known WiFi networks, preferring WiFi over the cellular data connection when available, or falling back to the cellular data connection when no other option exists.
In a Hotspot 2.0 scenario, WiFi hotspots get smarter. When you come in range of a hotspot that is part of your cellular providers trusted network, you phone automatically authenticates to that network to give you improved access.
The avatar concept might kick in here and see if the hotspot actually provides better connectivity than your cellular data connection, but assuming WiFi is a better option, the connection is made without needing to create an account at the access point, click a Starbucks checkbox, or do any of the other things that create friction in joining a wireless network today. Additional device intelligence may come into play to cause your device to require encryption or take other steps to protect your data in situations where an open wireless access point might put your data at risk.
HP Labs has a long history of making networking easier, providing earlier leadership in robust Ethernet over twisted pair solutions back in the 1980s and more recently leading the commercialization efforts around Software Defined Networking through stewardship of OpenFlow.
At the heart of these networking innovations is a desire to resolve complexity while increasing accessibility. Networking remains unnecessarily complex for the average user – all we really want to do is connect so we can access the data we need. Accessibility in an dense urban locations should be more ubiquitous than it is, particularly because so many of us are all paying the same companies to access the same network infrastructure.
If there’s a product that sorts out the context of what we need to access in our current situation by connecting to available resources in a seamless fashion, while simultaneously protecting data from falling into the wrong hands, we all win.