Archive for December, 2011
The closed club of Telecom Operators has been shaken by the entrance of several new players both at the infrastructure level and at the service level. At the infrastructure level the strong emergence of IP transport has changed many architectures and led to the need for new skills. More than that. It changed the meaning of Quality as it was, and to a large extent still is, understood by Telecom Operators. A quality that has to be perceived by the end customer in spite of the fact that the network can only deliver “best effort” and of the fact that no single subject can control a communication end to end. This is a hard conceptual change for Telecom Operators that have guarded, as holy priest, the sanctity of their infrastructures working for years to come to acceptable standards, to preserve interworking….All of this has to be seen in a different perspectives. As communications has become independent of geographical boundaries (information is accessed without knowing were it is) services are delivered across networks by enterprises and individuals that do not control any part of the network.
Regulation has fostered this transition in several countries by imposing the unbundling of the local loop, by allowing third parties to act as virtual Operators (MVNOs – Mobile Virtual Network Operator). Skype today is the largest telecommunications Operators for international calls, although it does not own a single copper pair. An it is not alone. Viber, to name another, has moved a step further by hijacking the phone number, so that whereas Skype requires a Skype identity to set up a call (or direct the call to a Telecom Operator if a number is dialed) Viber uses the client telephone number.
Along with these Operators new communications service providers have take a foothold worldwide: like Apple with Facetime and iCloud or DropBox and iBox supporting file sharing.
The huge success in the nineties of wireless communications in the developed world has led to volumes and in turn to the dramatic decrease of cell phones price. Add this to the limited cost of a wireless infrastructure (with respect to a fixed line infrastructure) and to the speed of deployment and you have the right recipe for its diffusion in the developing countries. Within a decade we have seen a largely unpredicted growth of wireless worldwide: from 1 billion to 5 billion cell phones, most of them in developing countries. China and India are at the forefront of this evolution and are now getting close to a billion of cell phone users, adding more every week than all the rest of the world.
In many of these Countries the cell phone has become a universal tool for the economic growth. Mobile payment is more diffused in Africa than in any other Continent since it has filled a gap in the banking system. Health care in many of these countries has been boosted by the use of cell phones.
This is creating a development of these areas also in terms of education with more new engineers in the developing world than in the developed world, and this is something that COMSOC has been taking into account with specific programs targeting these audiences.
The first use of Internet by the mass market has been tied to some sort of community services and community communications. But it is clearly a mark of this last decade the strong emergence of Social Networks. From MySpace to Orkut to Facetime and along with hundreds of more specialized communities the web has become a set of big squares attracting the world. Communications has been transformed from a one to one to many to many. More than that. People, and not just young people, want to be “on the square” all the time. This has generated the need for using a multi channel communications. It may be the computer from home, the cell phone on the move, a connected television from the hotel room.
Communications has also morphed into several media, with voice fading away, supplemented by texting, posting of clips and images, sharing of links.
The SMS way of communication that begun in the nineties is now being supplemented by a one to many text communication via Twitter.
It is amazing to see how the communications infrastructures, designed few decades ago to carry voice communications (64kbps in slots of 3 minuted a few times a day per user), have been able to stand the flood on the one hand of video and images (huge bandwidth for considerable periods of time) and on the other hand the tremendous number of tiny messages, few hundred bytes each, tens of time a day per user (on average, with peaks exceeding 100 times a day for certain users).
The communications mediated by Social Networks has also marked a progressive abandon of the telephone number as the way to identify a calling/called party. This identity is now associated to the name of the person, both at the network and at the perceptual level.
A communication network consists of nodes and links that connect the nodes. Although a network may be though a rather static object, in reality networks are continuously growing and evolving structures. In fact, networks will continue growing by interconnecting larger and larger number of nodes and devices (both physical and virtual ones). As the number of network entities will grow, the number of the interactions will correspondently increase as a 2nd power of the number of the networked entities. Future networks will become like complex systems. Intuitively, this will make the traditional paradigms in operating the networks ineffective and obsolete. This will require new management approaches capable of simplifying human operations, leveraging, for example, on emerging properties of complex networks (e.g. self-organization).
This is basically what happens daily in our real life: learning means simplifying the complexity around us. In the same way, the next challenges of Network Operators will be to understand and learn the complexity of future networks so that perception (and operations) of networks’ behaviors will be dramatically simplified.
Industrial Mathematics, which concerns with applying mathematical methods to solve industrial problems, is a powerful instrument to face these challenges in turning tomorrow networks’ complexity into simplicity.
Actually, in the last decade, extensive investigations of networks have been carried out in a number of fields, such as economics, sociology, genetics, physics, biology, in an effort to understand complex network behavior and emerging properties. Extending these investigations to understand the web, social networks, future Internet and Telecom networks will open new socio-economic opportunities. Let me make an example.
In the following paper they have shown that the slime mold Physarum polycephalum forms networks with comparable efficiency, fault tolerance, and cost to those of real-world infrastructure networks—in the case study, the Tokyo rail system. The discovered mechanisms for network formation can be captured in a biologically inspired mathematical model, which may be useful to exploit cost effective, self-adaptive and highly robust networks.
This blog is about the future but once in a while I feel it makes sense to turn back at the past. I have been asked to do so for a celebration of the last decade at IEEE and I would like to share some of the thoughts with you.
Ten years in telecommunications used to be a very short window of observation. True, there have been many pivotal moments, like the invention of the vacuum tube in 1906 by Lee de Forest that made long distance communications possible or, just to take another example the 1947 invention of the transistor that led to the deployment of the PCM ten years later. But all of these “events” took a long time to be felt by the public.
If we want to characterize this last decade we need to appreciate that we had witness an unprecedented global change, fueled by technology, but led by the transformation in the market and in the Society.
We are too close to say what historians will consider the main achievements in this decade in our field looking back fifty years from now. What we can say is that some global phenomena made possible by the advances in telecommunications have swept the world.
The first of them is what I call:
1. The rise of visual communications
Human communications has been based on vision: a quick glance can tell us a lot. Telecommunications, however, has shifted our habits to “voice-only” for over a hundred years. It has become so part of our habits that the first possibilities to communicate using video images didn’t create a significant interest. Someone even considered the visual communications as an intrusion in his privacy.
Nevertheless, the advance of technology has made available three essential components at a very affordable price: the camera, the broadband connection and the display. This decade has seen an amazing growth in “asynchronous” visual communications. At the end of 2011 YouTube is receiving every second 10 new videos the equivalent of half an hour of new content. And each second millions of seconds of content are viewed just form YouTube, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of the decade we have also witnessed a shift from peer to peer (mostly content download, like music, video, books) to streaming. The strong growth of broadband connections, all over the world driven by ADSL, has ignited the fruition of video content. But the production of content in these ten years has progressively shifted from the Majors to the individuals and this has started to create demand for efficient uplink. Broadband provided by ADSL cannot meet the demand. This has accelerated the deployment of fiber, particularly in those countries like the US where Telecom Operators are feeling the heat form cable companies. In the other developed countries the high cost of copper substitution has pushed new technologies, like DSL Vectoring, able to provide a capacity in the order of 50/80Mbps downlink and over 20Mbps uplink. Developing countries usually lack a good fixed network (or its penetration is limited) and are turning to wireless infrastructure whose broadband is limited but in most cases sufficient.
The shift toward a visual communications is starting to affect human to human communications: video calls have become more and more common fueled by smart phones, tablets and always on connectivity
I’ll consider the others in the next posts.
Devices for showing images, text and movies directly on your eyes have been popping up, first in business application fields, like design, maintenance, surgery, and also, more recently, in gaming. But all of them are bulky and surely not something one would be willing to wear through the day.
But now this might be changing, take a look:
The breakthrough is the removal of the display unit from the front of the glasses. It has been miniaturized and pushed back in the frame behind the ear. The laser pumps the light beam through the frame and the glass is made in such a way to refract the light into the eye. The impression you get is to watch an 87″ screen (wow!) floating 3 meter in front of you (10 feet away) at an HD quality (720 for the time being but the 1080 has already been promised).
The breakthrough has been made by Lumus and the glasses will be showcased at CES in two weeks.
I am really looking forward to try them on…
Sounds good, after a year spent looking at the future, to come back to the basic, to family and friendship.
It doesn’t matter what your religion is, nor if you “have” a religion. We share the same basic values and the same yearning for happiness.
So let me wish you, wherever you are, a big, heart-full Merry Christmas.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
This is the third law formulated by Arthur C. Clark regarding the evolution of technology and our ability to predict it. And this law came to my mind as I read a news on the application of nanotechnology to the growth of biotissues.
It is now quite a while that researchers have been able to grow cells in a Petri dish and more recently to create skin tissue by printing them using an inkjet like printer where the ink is made of cells. These printers are being used in many hospitals. Research is moving forward to allow the creation of 3D tissues, skin can be considered a 2D tissue for all practical purposes… So far the approach has been based on the creation of a scaffolding structure that is infused by cells. In case of bones this is (almost) ok since the scaffold can be made by calcium just like real bones are made. For other kind of tissue the challenge is to create a scaffolding that can disappear once the cells have been infused.
By attaching magnetic nano particles to cells and creating a magnetic field it is possible to move each cell in specific 3D spatial position. Cells appear to levitate in space. If that does not look like magic….
n3D Biosciences, where n stands for nanotechnology, claims that using this approach it will be possible to build bio-tissues faster and with great precision.
I can see a future where many of our organs, systems, an even specific cells will be associated with a nano particle acting as a marker and also as a sensor and actuator. We will be able to have a much closer monitoring of our body functionality and be prompted to take action if something may look suspicious.
It will be a long way, may be this vision will never turn out to become reality (although I have to remind the first law of technology evolution by Clark, saying that a good scientist is almost always right when she says that something will be feasible in the future, and almost always wrong when saying that something will never be possible…).
However, i am willing to be that by the end of this decade we will see a growing application of nanotechnology as marker to detect certain types of cancer cells, to target them and monitor the effect of cure at the cell level. And that is magic too!
The discussion at Kaleidoscope raised the question if technology will bring solution to our problems or it will generate more problems, if technology is good or bad, if there are limits to what technology can accomplish and to the progress of technology.
I should say that these are not novel questions, over and over they come up after my talks on the future.
Clearly, the discussion didn’t reach any “universal” consensus but these points seemed acceptable to many:
- It is a fact that any growth reach a limit, a threshold beyond which it cannot continue. These limits are dictated by the rule of physics. However the “physical” limits in most areas where we see technology evolution are still far away in time (see Lloyd papers: The ultimate computer”), some 400 years away at the present pace of evolution. Besides, a physical limit for a technology can be irrelevant for another technology moving in a different area where such a limit does not apply (if you are traveling by car there is a physical distance between two points that no matter what technology you use will not decrease; however if you cheat the system and dig a tunnel that physical limit no longer apply…). A complementary issue is to know what the limits are and here the picture gets fuzzier, particularly when we are confronted with different sorts of limits, like the ones deriving from economics.
- There are clearly areas where technology can solve problems but there are other where technology alone does not provide the answer. We have technology to make cars completely safe, as I pointed out several times. Just control the car engine through the road infrastructure so that it doesn’t push a car faster than 50kmh if that is the speed limit, make sure that it stops the car at all crossing and so on. Technology is not an issue, the issue is the acceptability by us of such upper hand taken by technology.
- Technology is a tool, it is not good nor bad. It depends on how we use it if the results are good or bad. And, of course, there is a wide range of opinions on what it is good and what it is bad. Is it good to exploit low income countries by shifting there manufacturing because that provides jobs and better life or is it bad because we make an unfair use of those people? Even more complex: is it appropriate to use technology to extend life for a few more months, spending a lot of money that could have been put to a better use? According to US Health Statistics, close to 80% of health expenditure takes place in the last 6 month of a person life, to fight a losing battle. Wouldn’t it be better to use differently that money?
- Technology changes the overall scenario and these changes are a mixture of good and bad. Overall changes that survive the test of time are for the better but still any change is upsetting the status quo and since that status was the result of adaptation by all parties involved the new status requires effort to re-adapt. This explains the general resistance and opposition to change. But, of course, there is more. New, sometimes unforeseen problems may pop up. Think of the issue of privacy that the digital world has created (again, this is not an effect of technology, like social network software, but the way we are using it, populating those Social Networks with private information that regrettably do not stay private for long…).
- Technology is a powerful tool that has proven its value over and over. It is obvious that the big issues we are, and will be facing, will take advantage of technology to ease the problem or come to a solution. But technology does NOT solve problems, in the same way it does NOT create them. It takes a lot more, however this does not diminish in any way the importance of technology and points out the need to create a conducive culture where technology can be applied. Education is fundamental and should be pursued at all levels.