Why You Will Come to Love Dead Zones

For the first 20 years of cellular communications, mobile handset users have complained about dead zones, and keep switching services to get reliable connections.

In the next 20 years, organizations of all types will be seeking out dead zones. If they don’t exist, they’ll create them.

Yes, that’s right. You can hear me now.

To date, the unchallenged assumption behind wireless communications is that it should be ubiquitous and unimpeded.


At some point over the next five years, you will see military organizations, schools and corporations try to figure out how to seal off parts of their facilities from wireless communications.

Why? Let’s take a sampling.

Public transportation: Operators of commuter rail service in Madrid and every other major city probably wish now they had a cheap way to seal off their rolling assets from incoming signals. That would have made it impossible to detonate explosives in backpacks left on luggage racks.

Education: Cheating by students is no longer a matter of writing notes in ink on palms of hands or glancing at a neighbor’s work. Hopefully, you didn’t miss Charles Gibson’s April 29 PrimeTime Thursday report on the state of the art in cheating at colleges and high schools. Sidekicks and Blackberries now are “lifelines” used beneath the desk to get answers from cohorts in remote places. Personal digital assistants make it easy to use Google on the spot to look up answers on the Web—or pull notes from a hard drive.

Corporations: How many meetings have you attended recently where at least one participant is distracted by a cell phone, another is tapping messages relentlessly into a Blackberry and a third is “working” on a laptop? Is that person just taking notes? Peek at the screen, to be sure.

What every organization in every business, academic, social and security setting will have to figure out is where not to have wireless communications. We will build dead zones, for our own protection, productivity and concentration.

These dead zones will most likely fall to you, the technology project manager, to install, maintain and monitor. You will have to determine which set of meeting and conference rooms will need to be reserved for pure face-to-face communication. You may even have to seal off some executive offices from wireless distraction.

Academic institutions will create dead zones where tests will be taken. They may even install some sort of detection system to ensure no memory sticks, hard drives or other data storage and display devices make their way into exams. They may even hire information security guards, watching for surreptitious use of unauthorized devices.

Owners of airlines and any other large conveyance for freight or people will want to seal off their vehicles from unwanted signals. Police chiefs will look carefully at which public places will have no communications. Military generals will simply act.

For a conventional company, this doesn’t have to be terribly obtrusive or expensive. One small company, Cell Block Technologies, has been working to develop Quiet Cell technology that can detect and control cell phone use. Incoming calls are redirected to voice mail; outgoing calls are blocked.

There are nontechnical means to blocking signals as well. Concrete, brick and steel, or even two sets of walls can jam signals effectively. This may seem costly now. But once demand for dead space accelerates, retrofits of “signal insulation” will become common.

Who knows? Some of you may even find an entrepreneurial calling here. Over the next five years, you can bet someone will begin building resort hotels that are totally wireless. No wires for Net or telephone communications. Some kind of anti-radio-wave dome to block incoming and outgoing wireless signals.

In any event, you can be sure a wide swath of executives, managers and employees who say their lives are subsumed by the around-the-clock “demands” of their portable devices will pay big bucks to luxuriate in places that can ensure their peace of mind.