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Present and Future of Communications

The first issue of the IEEE Comsoc Technical Committees Newsletter has been published. Image credit: COMSOC

The new IEEE COMSOC Technical Committee Newsletter is out and you can read it here.

It contains a number of very interesting technical articles and a short, candid,  interview I gave on the present and future of communications. Whilst the articles may need a bit of technical savvy to be appreciated, you can easily (I hope) follow the interview

In the interview I am addressing two points:

  1. Which are in my opinion the hot topics today in communications
  2. What will happen next in communications

So what are the biggest and hottest topics in telecommunications today?

5G is the first that would come to mind, that’s the one you see on newspapers headlines. This is also the topic arising when talking to telecom industry leaders. However, if you talk to them  in private, off the record, you hear them saying that 5G is going to be important in the coming decade but today it is mostly a headache. One problem is that telecom industry is still investing significantly on 4G coverage and it is still in the process of recovering the investment cost for this infrastructure. A second problem, nightmare actually, is that the type of services that they can offer on 5G today is not the one that can generate “extra” money.  I see in Italy Operators starting to deploy and offer 5G and guess what: they are offering it at the very same price of 4-3G, no premium charged (it would indeed be a difficult sell given the very limited coverage of 5G now). It is not just Italy, With the possible exception of South Korea and Japan where a premium is charged, in other parts of the world there is very little space for a premium charge, In the US a recent poll indicated that only a tiny fraction of the market would be willing to pay more for 5G and T-Mobile recently announced a slow down in 5G tower deployment. because of uncertainties in revenue generation. Deployment will continue, of course, because in order to sustain the increasing traffic you need to increase network capacity and it makes more (economic) sense to increase it using 5G.

5G is an important, hot, topic but its importance goes beyond the increased capacity, higher speed, lower latency: it is because the session layer, for the first time, can be delegated to the edge, to the terminal. This can foster a deep change in telecommunications business structure, If the device itself (or a service provider through an app in the smartphone) can choose the gateway, the network resources and establish a communication path with the required performance characteristics you have a disintermediation of the telecom Operator.

This ties in with other hot topic in telecommunications today, like SDN and NFV since these are leading to different ways of managing network resources, potentially shifting their management outside of the Operator grip.

We are seeing a convergence in the making, two different worlds merging into one: the 802 world (wifi) and the wireless (4-5G) world that are overlapping more and more at the local level. 5G can be the unifying umbrella bringing services to use seamlessly the transportation capabilities provided by WiFi and wireless networks. WiFi 6, recently released, provides multiple downlink and uplink management capability inheriting characteristics from 4G. Its deployment is faster than 5G since any new device is coming up with WiFi 6 embedded and the replacement time of devices is way shorter than the deployment time of 5G (1-2 years versus 5-10 years).

Another hot topic is the rapid transformation of the telecommunications network from a network of “wires” to a network of “data”. This is changing the architecture of the network and more important it is changing the value perception of the network and the players that can deliver such values. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Analytics are going to have a deep impact on the transformation of telecommunications networks.

More to come….

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.