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What if …Reality+Digital Reality becomes … Reality – IX

The softwarization trend extends to systems. In the graphic the evolution towards the provisioning of 5G using network softwarization. Image credit: Rabia Khan et al. Tomsk Polytechnic University

Interestingly digitalisation/softwarization is happening not just at product/equipment level but also at system/network level.

An airplane engine (turbine) has its digital twin, creating a digital model in the cyberspace that can be used in many ways, including the provisioning of information via virtual and augmented reality to designers, maintenance crew, pilots (for training as well as operation purposes) and of course for simulation. At the same time that “digital” engine is a component of the “digital” airplane and it interacts, in the cyberspace with the other  airplane digital components. Today pilots are seeing data segmented by components through their glass cockpit, military pilots (and planes) interface with the various components through interfaces making use of augmented reality (head up displays). In the future we may expect more sophisticated interfaces connecting the pilots with the digital airplane getting them a direct connection to what is going on at a global level, rather than seen the “trees to make up the forest”. This approach will bring Digital Reality to become the primary interface to the Physical Reality.

Hiroshi Ishii has been leading researches on Tangible Interfaces. One of the applications was the design of internet networks using digital modelling and SandScape, a broad surface covered with sand. By moving the sand and placing objects on the sand representing network equipment one could experiment the effect of different architectures. It was a mixture of Digital and Physical Reality used to grasp the effect on a “different” physical reality. Image credit: Media Lab

Telecommunications networks have been evolving to become more and more flexible, both to be more efficient in the use of resources and in the delivery of services.

The Signalling System #7 was probably the first step towards the use of a digital image of the whole network to become aware of the current use of resources network-wide and take decision to maximise their use.

Intelligent Networks followed suit and then there was the Cloud, the Service Features Interaction, Service Virtualization….

In this last decade we have seen a global paradigm shift bringing any network component and any network process into the cyberspace, enabling the operation, management and exploitation of the network resources in the cyberspace, through SDN (Software Defined Network/Networking) and NFV (Network Function Virtualization). In a way these technologies/paradigm move the network to the cyberspace and services/service providers can custom tailor the digital network and through some magic this digital network creates a physical network mirroring it.
Now, if you think about this, in this way, it is really a tipsy turvy situation with respect to the previous situations. Rather than creating a digital model of  physical entity (or conceptual entity like a plane composing its physical entities) we are now starting with a digital entity that, through various interactions will create its mirror image into the physical space.

5G is probably the first network that can take full advantage of this top down, digital to physical, approach. It is unlikely to see a full-fledged softwarized 5G network in the coming years. My bet is that we will have to wait for 6G to see that kind of network, hence 10 more years at least. However softwarization is in the 5G genes and once softwarization will take place to create 6G (most likely it will be the only way to create that network) we will likely see a progressive –retrograde- softwarization of 5G as well (looking forward to your views on this!). By the way, according to the Chinese “vision” 6G will be the network that blurs the lines between the Digital and the Physical Reality!

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.