Hooray, No Internet!

Remember that day, during the summer of 2022 when Rogers Communications wasn’t? Wasn’t providing communicaions, that is. No cell service. No Internet. It was the nearest thing to Armageddon for many users, but not for me.

I actually felt a complete sense of relaxation and smug satisfaction that my own life was not completely bound up in the online world. Oh sure, I am an avid user of online services and I’ll admit to a habit of checking my email inboxes multiple times each day.

But, unlike the generation they call “millennials”, I grew up in a world where a phone was a rotary dial device tethered to the wall by a thin cable. And the Internet wasn’t even a thing. The military had something called “Arpanet” that was introduced to maintain diverse routing of data between command centres and missile silos. I belonged to a local BBS (Bulletin Board System) and could dial-in to send electronic mail to others users of the same system.

Mobile phones were something millionaires had in their limousines. When cellular technology started to come down in price I was at a stage in my career where a “carphone” was a useful tool. I paid the still big bucks to get one. A radio transmitter was installed in the trunk of my car and connected to a big black handset beside the driver’s seat. A glass mount antenna stuck out from the car’s rear window.

Try telling a millennial today that the device that never leaves their hands isn’t a phone at all – it’s a radio! In fact, it’s several radios. It’s a cellular network radio, a Bluetooth radio, a WiFi radio and a GPS receiver.

A fellow baby-boomer ham in one of my former clubs was a huge fan of DMR. I told him I wasn’t interested but he insisted that I would be one day. “Look”, he said “I have code plugs that let me connect to hams all over the world.”

I reminded him that his global connections relied on the Internet. “Yes, but it still uses a radio connection at each end” he replied. “And you can get a DMR handheld quite cheaply now”. I showed him my smartphone and said “I can text, talk and even videoconference anywhere in the world too. And my device uses radio at each end too. And no code plugs required.”

Around the same time I was very actively involved with a local ARES group. We were fortunate to have financial support from our county’s Emergency Management department. Then some bright spark consultant sold the county on the idea of giving every member of their staff a smartphone.

Eventually, following a management reorganization, the county decided their smartphones gave them all the emergency communications they needed and our ARES group was thrown under the bus. The cellular network is robust, every tower has backup power and, by Jove, the very nature of cellular technology has reliability and diverse routing built-in. What could go wrong?

I am not opposed to DMR (and other competing, non-standardized, proprietary variants). Nor am I opposed to contemporary cellular radio telephony (is “telephony” still a valid descriptor for what we have nowadays?). But I am tremendously grateful to Rogers Communications for revalidating good old wireless sets that depend only on a piece of wire strung out the window to provide worldwide communications.

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