How important are open standards?
Consider that I am writing and posting today from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in China. Land of pandas, hot peppers and the May 12, 2008 earthquake.
WiFi is an open, global standard. American WiFi radios work great with Chinese WiFi radios. Members of the Chinese middle class are as likely to have wireless networks, built with WiFi, as their American counterparts.
Because so many Chinese live in large apartment blocks, with homes very close together, it is not unusual for a PC owner to be within range of a dozen router signals. Many have security. Others do not.
This means that at night it is possible for a reporter visiting from America, to get a clear Internet signal and write a blog post. I learned about North Korea's nuclear test last week from Google News, many hours before Chinese TV knew what to say about it.
Chengdu, the city of 7 million people which I visited with my son on vacation last week is not a high tech hotspot. There are only a limited number of coffee shops claiming to have WiFi. A mobile phone operator is planning to build a WiFi "cloud" in the city, but so far that is only available in the area of the convention center.
Yet WiFi is everywhere. I am finishing this post in the office of a school principal, where my son's teacher works, teaching English teachers how to teach English better. (She was my son's Chinese teacher in America.) The principal is accustomed to a big desktop with a wired LAN connection. He did not know this until I told him but he also has very good WiFi.
WiFi has become a standard offering on nealry every LAN router on the market. Chinese are no more likely to protect their home wireless with LANs than you or I are. So here I am, in an office in Chengdu, uploading pictures, writing and posting as if I were on my porch swing in Atlanta.
That's what an open standard will get you.
Hundreds of thousands of people here have wireless networks. Which means that in middle-class areas of Chengdu there is literally WiFi anywhere. WiFi with as much quality as you will find in the U.S., especially late at night.
With wireless networks filling apartment blocks, there may be no need for a cloud. The cloud is here, built with open standards.
You never thought of WiFi as a way to break through the Great Chinese Firewall (which is really more like swiss cheese) but it is. Imagine what we could do with more WiFi spectrum.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com