Posts Tagged ‘Infrastructure’

Your next car may not need you…

Monday, September 3rd, 2012 by Roberto Saracco

You have surely followed news on the progress of self driving cars. The latest one, for now, is the Google car that has successfully complete 300,000 miles without a glitch and that according to the researchers behind this feat would be ready for commuter service now!

Our next car, according to KPMG

What I just read is that KPMG forecast self driving car being sold at the latest in 2019, possibly sooner.

To make this happen is basically a matter of cost, economics, not of technology availability. The Google car afore mentioned is the proof. And technology cost keeps decreasing.
A self driving car needs to be aware of its environment and ready to react, it has to “understand” the environment in ways that are taken for granted by humans but are quite difficult for a computer. When you drive you pay attention to trees on the side of the road in the sense that you want to make sure to stay on track, i.e. on the road, but if you see a kid playing on the sidewalk you immediately take into consideration that he can jump on the road unexpectedly, something you don’t take into consideration for trees. The computer driving the car needs to absorb this kind of knowledge.

The cost of all technology, even though it will decrease, will probably remain too expensive throughout this decade. However, the cost can be greatly decreased if the car and the road infrastructure are both getting smarter. This is something that is being considered within the Intelligent Transportation Systems area of the ICT LABS. We need to look at the same time at the evolution of the car and the evolution of the infrastructure (roads, red lights, signals…). This can lead to an acceleration towards self driving car and the transformation of ourselves from drivers to passengers…

Towards infrastructure less communications?

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Roberto Saracco

Well, it looks highly unlikely. You need roads to travel, you need wires and towers to communicate.

Suppose you have a real good off-road SUV, one of those behemoth that can also cross rivers. May be you caould go from A to B without having to use a road.

Ah! I hear you saying. You might be able to do so but it would take much more than using a nice paved road and it will cost you a fortune in gasoline. Right. But what if you are in the middle of nowhere, let’s say in the Australian outback. What would be quicker AND cheaper: get the behemoth or build a road?

I guess I made my point. By having a sufficiently smart and flexible car you can make do without the road infrastructure.

Let’s turn to communications. The very first telephones were sold without any infrastructure to plug them on. You would buy a (pair of) phone and you would ask somebody to lay a wire (actually 4 of them) to establish the connection. Luckily a full blown infrastructure was put in place, with a lot of investment and over a long period of time, and today we can easily connect our phones. Then cell phones were invented and the connectivity perception moved away from the users since the last part was via “air” and most of the times the towers were hidden to the user’s sight.

Nowadays, and more so tomorrow, terminals, like cell phones, are very powerful devices that can morph into a network node. In perspective they can become the network. Clearly I am not thinking that the big backbone will disappear. On the contrary, They will become even more capacious and will extend to metropolitan areas to what today we call the backhauling. But the distribution network may fade away under the pressure on the one side of the extended backbone and on the other side on the take over by terminals.

Terminals may communicate one another whenever they are sufficiently close, and for data communications. From an energy standpoint it is cheaper to compute than to transmit and energy dissipation grows at least with the square of the distance. So if two terminals are closer one another than they are close to the antenna connected to the backbone it makes more “energy wise” sense to communicate with one another, one acting as a bridge towards another terminal (and so on) or towards the backbone antenna.

In this perspective the future network will be a composite of dynamically connected nodes and such a network will also be a set of connected information. Quite a different view from today hierarchical structure. It will be much more like a “natural creation” rather than an engineered one.

In order to make it happen we need a lot of research (and it is going on today) and the vision to let the market evolve.

What is LightSquared from LightSquared on Vimeo.


I should say that this post was prompted by looking at Lightsquare, a 7B$ initiative by Harbinger aiming at creating a wireless coverage in the US deploying 40,000 antennas as access point. I would consider this as a first step towards the flat network of terminals I am suggesting. It seems to me that 40,000 access point can really sustain a US wide network only once terminals will play also the rle of network nodes, extending the reach of each access point.

A closer example of this vision “in the field” can be the Serval project,

being deployed in Australia where cell phones play the role of towers to provide connectivity to areas not covever, creaitng a network by themselves with one (or more) cell phone acting as gateway when it happens to be within coverage of a network access. 

Where have telecommunications “gone”?

Monday, December 14th, 2009 by Roberto Saracco

I just finished to read a nice book, “the Big Switch, rewiring the world, from Edison to Google” written by Nicholas Carr.

What strikes me most is not what Nicholas is saying but what he is not saying: he never speaks of telecommunications.

He starts by looking at the rise of the electricity infrastructure and of its impact on the business and on our everyday life. Then, almost with no gaps in between he starts to speak about the new infrastructure being created by information and computers processing this information. It is this new infrastructure that we are starting to experience that is changing the business and reshaping our lives.

Has he forgotten that this infrastructure exists because there is a telecommunications infrastructure to enable it? Has he forgotten that the telecommunications infrastructure has changed the business and our life? That this infrastructure has made other infrastructures possible, like the network of transport of goods , the network of news and entertainment?

Apparently he has. Probably he considers the telecommunications infrastructure has something that has found its real dimension in the enabling of the information and processing infrastructure.

He may be right. This is something that I feared in the last part of the nineties when I wrote the book “the disappearance of telecommunications”. The success, the pervasiveness, the efficiency of telecommunications is begetting its demise from our perception, it’s making it disappear.

This fading away from the center stage is flanked by a decrease in revenues that may tend to stop once it matches the operation cost. Zero margin maybe the asymptote.

Not a nice thought of course. How can this infrastructure be leveraged by those who created it and keep investing money in it, a particularly hot question in these days when a huge amount of money would be required to move the present still largely copper infrastructure to a full optical infrastructure. The paradox, as Roberto Minerva pointed out in some of his posts, is that by moving towards the unlimited capacity offered by a full optical infrastructure and its much higher efficiency we will accelerate its demise from our perception as everyday users.

At the same time, this shift will increase enormously the growth of ecosystems that thrive on very low transaction costs.


Reflection Group

Friday, November 20th, 2009 by Roberto Saracco

At the European Parliament there is a group of key politicians who served in various capacity at the local Governments throughout Europe. Their job is to leverage on their experience to propose actions for the European Parliament. It is called Reflection Group, .

I have been asked to speak at one of their meeting in Brussel on Thursday, November 19th. The theme was Information and Communications technology implication in the 2020-2030 timeframe. I was there as a futurologist (that’s their definition of what I am doing), and in good company. With me were the Director of Google Europe and the Director of Research and Development of Telefonica Spain.

Presentations were quite in synch, although the three speakers was meeting there for the first time (I understand that was intended, with the goal of getting different perspectives). These the main “visions”:

a) basically unlimited bandwidth both fix and mobile, provided at a flat rate;

b) data available for free by a variety of sources. Information embedded in services and interactions (augmented reality is the normal way of presenting information);

c) privacy is a personal decision and follows from the complete control over data directly and indirectly created.

d) any physical object in part of the web, connected to the Internet in various way.

e) most innovation is created by small enterprises and individuals, all over the world. It is made viable to the market by few big overreaching organisations; infrastructures at Country level are crucial to make innovation reality in that Country.

Interesting the discussion. Among the things that I felt notable

-       the understanding of the lock in created by an emphases (strict regulation) on privacy and the agreement that Europe should change the approach by ensuring control, rather than blocking access to private information, but the political difficulty in changing direction and lowering, at least at perception level on the public audience, the attention on privacy;

-       the importance of education and specifically in the areas of creating an innovation attitude (and a conducing environment)and in entrepreneurship. It is clear that most educated people in the long term (20 years from now) will be in Asia and Latin America. Those, therefore, are the geographical areas that are likely to have the most innovative resources, but the challenge for Europe lies more in leveraging on these resources than in improving education locally (although this remains a fundamental issue).

-       Infrastructures are crucial, they will be pervasive and will provide capacity exceeding demands, but who is going to build them? What should be the role of the regulation in fostering the development of these infrastructures, should they be a private or joint public and private endeavour?