Cooper’s Law Acting on Media

Martin Cooper
Martin Cooper

Previous webpage: Moore's Law Acting on Media

As much as Moore’s Law affects the world in terrific ways, it alone would result merely in very powerful but isolated and unconnected computer boxes, with no broadband networking, no Internet, not even anything online, were not for two similar observations or so-called laws. Although these two other dynamic laws of technology are taught in my classroom, they need also be taught in any classroom that teaches Moore’s Law. Moreover, every technology or media executive who needs to predict or understand the future needs to understand the two as well as Moore’s Law.

The acuity of Moore’s observation prompted radio telecommunications scientist Martin Cooper, the inventor of the mobile phone, to notice a similar dynamic in the progression of wireless communications. He observed that the number of wireless signals that can simultaneously be transmitted without interfering with each other has been doubling approximately every 30 months since the early 1900s.

When in 1901 Guglielmo Marconi began wirelessly transmitting (‘broadcasting’) Morse code across the Atlantic, radio technology was so primitive that his signal used a significant fraction of the world’s radio spectrum. Had radio not advanced technologically, today there would be room within the electromagnetic spectrum for no more than eight radio stations in the world.

Yet wireless communications technology has been advancing at the pace Cooper’s observed. The number of radio signals in the world that can today be simultaneously sent without interfering with each other (calculations involving effective signal strength and how finely technology has diced the electromagnetic spectrum) is more than one trillion. If Cooper’s Law continues apace, by 2070 each person on Earth will theoretically be able to use the entire radio spectrum himself without interfering with anyone else’s signals. An infinite answer!

The practical effects of Cooper’s Law are readily observable to people who live in developed nations. It is why a roomful of people can now simultaneously use their mobile phones, Bluetooth headsets, WiFi laptops, etc., without those devices’ signals interfering with one other. There are ever fewer places where mobile phone voice and Internet connections can’t be received and at ever higher speeds. Not only are homes and offices now equipped with wireless information access to the Internet, but so are some entire citiesand countries (Bahrain, Barbados, Estonia, and Malta have become wireless information fields.) During 2011, a new WiFi standard called WRAN was announced, which is capable from a single antenna of delivering a 22-megabyte per second Internet connection over 12,000 square miles (30,720 sq. km.), an area the size of the country of Taiwan or the U.S. State of Maryland.

This steady rise of wireless capabilities also has allowed access and distribution of news, entertainment, advertising, and other information to become truly mobile. Cooper’s Law means that readily obtaining a wireless Internet connection of tens, if not hundreds, of megabytes per second speeds anywhere in the developed world will be the norm by the end of this decade. Wireless Internet access will reach an even larger human population than will have access to electricity. And the very concept of waiting for something to download wirelessly will soon fade away as a practical concern, as will the questions of whether or not a person in those countries can connect wirelessly to ‘cloud-based’ services. (The only barriers that remain won’t be technological but corporate or governmental policies.)

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