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A New Utility Pole Boosts Wi-Fi Signals And Electric Car Charging

The V-Pole uses a long-overlooked part of urban infrastructure to give us extra capacity, both in our mobile devices and our cars’ batteries.

The chasm between how our wireless infrastructure works and the way we want to use it is widening. Growth in wireless has started climbing exponentially. Global mobile traffic is expected to go from less than 500 petabytes per month in 2010, to more than 6,000 PB by 2015 (PDF).

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Normally, this explosion in bandwidth would trigger a commiserate increase in revenue that, in a perfect world, would be reinvested in new capacity. That’s not how it’s working out. The costs of increasing cities’ wireless bandwidth at such a blistering pace outstrips the expected returns, so our family of networked devices–tablets, phones, computers, watches, what have you–are gobbling up the available data bandwidth. The result is you tapping on your phone waiting for downloads, or a phone call to find its way to its recipient.

Relief may come from an unlikely source. Douglas Copland, a novelist, artist, and now pioneering technology entrepreneur, unveiled the V-Pole, named after his hometown city of Vancouver. It’s designed to relieve the wireless congestion that is choking off the flow of data in our cities. The Canadian launched the concept alongside Vancouver’s mayor in May.

The V-Pole, technology crafted as public art, raises the lowly utility pole to new heights. Instead of merely holding wires, the 12.5 foot metal V-Pole consists of a pillar of densely stacked wireless transmitters. These pour out connectivity (2G, 3G, or LTE) across 1.5 city blocks. Multiple cellular carriers and wireless Internet could fast-track connections through fiber optic, Ethernet, or DSL connections. It’s also hooked into the city’s power grid (an LED street lamp shines conveniently down from above), and a wireless electric car charger is optimistically penciled into the drawings.

V-Pole may not be either. It’s still in the conceptual stage. But given the alternative–the dense thicket of ugly cell-phone towers invading our urban landscape–the idea of connectivity as art seems appealing.

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About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment. His favorite topics are wicked problems -- and discoveries such as how dung beetles rely on the light of the Milky Way to navigate (and all that says about the human condition on Earth)

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