The Telecoms Bandwidth Engine - Part 3
But is this change for the positive or negative?
In my previous blogs in this series I explained how advances in packet and optical transport technology have opened the way for service modernization that is driving fundamental societal change. This change is ubiquitous, covering every aspect of our lives and indeed some are suggesting it is so far reaching that it is actually the 4th industrial revolution. Like the other industrial revolutions, the speed of change is so rapid that we don’t, and won’t, have time to consider the full consequences of the changes we are living through.
Changes for the betterment of society
The move to smart systems, provides multi-faceted societal advantages.
Intelligent transport systems in road, rail and air, have the potential to move far more people, faster, with increased safety and reduced environmental impact. These rely on robust, real time communication networks to support new signalling and control information. When issues occur, people can then be rapidly informed, allowing informed decision making. In the near future, we will see communications networks put in place that allow vehicles to communicate with the network itself, allowing the autonomous vehicles to become a reality. This will further increase the environmental and safety benefits, whilst continuing to increase the rapid transit of people.
Smart devices and smart medication offer to improve people quality of life by providing devices with the ability to continually monitor someone’s well-being and rapidly informing health services in the event of deterioration. In addition, smart pill dispensers will help ensure patients are taking the right medication, at the right time, and have the ability to order repeat prescriptions as required. In the near future we will see advances in robot aided surgery, allowing highly accurate microsurgery to be performed at a level that is not possible today. Advanced transport networks will make it possible to perform this surgery remotely.
Online learning, electronic whiteboards and the electronic classroom are already a reality today. However in the future with high bandwidth, low latency transport networks to the classroom and the home we will see the emergence of immersive education, where students can use virtual and augmented reality to: visit the locations they are studying, visualize a piece of art or design, listen to a composition, visualize what a mathematic equation really looks like. Imagination is the limit as to what can be done.
Smart Cities with Smart Buildings, Smart Lighting, Smart Emergency Services and More
The list of smart city applications is almost endless. However, they all rely on a robust communications network to provide real-time data from sensors around the city to centralized analytics engines. The smart city systems have the potential to improve the safety of the residents of a city whilst reducing the environmental impact and cost of running the city. In the near future we will see all these smart city systems being integrated with smart transportation and AR information systems, making it simpler and more efficient to navigate around a city.
Issues with change
These advancements aren’t without issue:
The Digital Divide
With each technology advancement over the last 20 years, we have seen the digital divide widen. Many people still don’t have access to the communications networks required to support today’s new applications. As we more we move towards the more advanced applications, the more an advanced communications network is required and the further those people without it, drop behind. Unless there is strong governmental intervention, we will see the emergence of a two tier society based on telecoms connectivity. Those with good connectivity will have better health care and better education, those without the connectivity will have a lower life expectancy and lower education, and this risks becoming a viscous circle.
The Educational Divide
As with the digital divide we will start to see an educational divide. Those unable to embrace the tools of the new technology will be left at a distinct disadvantage. We already see this today with high street banks vanishing to be replaced by online banking, leaving those unable to use online banking with little or no banking choice and/or large distances to travel to get to a branch office. We also see this same divide with preferential pricing for products and goods being given to those able to buy online.
As we become more and more reliant on the technology and the smart systems it enables, the more we, as individuals, and the networks we use become the target for a next generation of cyber criminals.
The Risks Associated with Interconnected Systems
There are risks associated with ever increasing reliance on inter-connected smart systems. We will see small failures in one system having the potential to cause dramatic failures in associated systems. We had a small taste of this in the UK on August 9th 2019, when an outage in two power generation plants ultimately caused chaos on the rail network. As systems become even more tightly coupled, their supply chains become even more interdependent, and failure in one system will inevitably cause failure in the dependant systems. And it is not just accidental failure, these systems will become increasingly attractive to malicious hackers who will look to infiltrate the weak points in the chain and then look to cause maximum disruption, and even destruction, of the associated systems.
So network reliability, resilience, redundancy and security will be become key if we are not to see chaos on a regular basis!
Only history will tell if we are actually in the 4th industrial revolution, and only history will tell us if this ended up being for the betterment of society or not. However what is clear to me is that is that the telecoms bandwidth engine has already started to change the way we live our lives, and the speed of this change will continue to accelerate over the next decade. It is also clear to me that people, societies, countries and businesses unable or unwilling to embrace this change will be left behind, unable to participate in the ever growing digital society.
Personally, I believe that the benefits brought by the new technologies outweigh the negatives. However I am also realistic enough to realize that, at first, there will be losers and well as the winners. History will judge society by how we are able to help the less fortunate embrace the benefits of change.