The majority of Earth’s inhabitants don’t have a telephone or e-mail, and many places still lie beyond the reach of established communication networks. That severely precludes development, meaning that new insights percolate through slowly and that essential services such as water provision are based on imprecise information. Lack of information exchange is also an obstacle to improving agriculture, education, and many other fields. Even in well-connected areas, networks are less dense than required to improve our safety and well-being. You need a fine-meshed network if you want to keep on top of the genesis of earthquakes, floods, climate change, and many other unstable systems. Sparsity in networks means a lack of control. Making network coverage more complete could help develop and stabilize our world. However, any attempt to extend networks raises significant problems, which we explore in this chapter using the example of radio networks. We should keep in mind, though, that similar phenomena are evident in other networks as well, including the power grid and social networks geared to education. At first sight, radio is an excellent technology for filling the gaps left by other communication technologies. Its capacity is restricted, however, because wireless communication is limited by basic laws of physics, obliging broadcasting and communication companies, for instance, to battle it out for their slice of the ether. The number of radio and TV stations, mobile phones, and satellite connections increases inexorably, filling up every patch of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be used for radio. The historical pattern has been to develop new techniques and then to lay claim to unused spectrum. The old medium-wave bands were the first to be used for radio programs. Broadcasters later adopted FM, exploiting higher frequencies at the price of reduced range. New semiconductor electronics then became faster and brought access to even higher frequencies. Once the first global standard for mobile communication (GSM) slots had been filled, new space was opened up at double the frequency. The latest third-generation (3G) mobile phone technologies—like the universal mobile telecommunication system (UMTS)—work with higher frequencies still.
Keywords: air traffic control, communication networks, government, information exchange, mobile phones, optical communication technology, photonics, radio spectrum, universal mobile telecommunication system (UMTS), wireless communication
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