Negroponte switch

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In the 1980s, Professor Nicholas Negroponte of the Media Lab at MIT originated the idea that came to be known as the "Negroponte Switch".[1][2][3][4] He suggested that due to accidents of engineering history we had ended up with static devices – such as televisions – receiving their content via signals travelling over the airways, while devices which should have been mobile and personal – such as telephones – were receiving their content over static cables. It was his idea that a better use of available communication resource would result if the information (such as phone calls) going through the cables was to go through the air, and that going through the air (such as TV programmes) was to be delivered via cables. Negroponte called this "trading places," but his co-presenter George Gilder at an event organised by Northern Telecom called it the "Negroponte Switch", and that name stuck.

As more mobile devices need connections to the data network, and bandwidths required and deliverable in wired or fibre-optic systems grow, it becomes steadily less sensible to use wireless broadcast as a way of communicating with static installations. At some point the switch takes place, as the limited radio bandwidth is reallocated to data service to mobile equipment, and television and other media move to cable.

Cory Doctorow, author and sometime Electronic Frontier Foundation activist, has described the process of the switch as unwiring, a move away from a global internetwork, which in reality passes through many chokepoints where data may be controlled and inspected, toward one which uses available bandwidth frugally by passing communications in a mesh and avoiding chokepoints. He and Charles Stross wrote a collaborative short story Unwirer on the process.[5]

The blending of civil liberty and technology may be considered as an effort to reimplement the Internet in the interests of the users, freedom and democracy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Speaking at a Northern Telecom meeting with George Gilder. Negroponte called it "trading places" Gilder called it "The Negroponte Switch". From Being Digital, 1995, Negroponte, N. ISBN 0-340-64930-5 p 24.
  2. ^ "The New Rule of the Wireless" was first published in Forbes ASAP, March 29th, 1993.
  3. ^ Negroponte’s WIRED articles 1 and 2
  4. ^ Roddy, David // Wireless Review; 01/01/98, Vol. 15 Issue 1, p84
  5. ^ "Unwirer". Retrieved 2016-01-04.