When asked to write something for Telecom Asia’s 25th anniversary, my immediate thoughts were: “I can barely remember what happened 25 minutes ago, let alone 25 years!” Luckily, while my memory may have failed me, a rich hoard of historical information is always available on the internet - simply for the asking.
And that’s the one thing that has influenced the telecoms industry most radically in the last 25 years. It’s not your mobile phone with all its doodads and apps, and it’s not your ultra high-speed broadband for downloading shudder-free videos, or even your ability to use a smartphone to make payments or track your vital body functions. It’s the internet.
Why, you might ask, is the internet such an important factor? For a start, without it, there would be no need for any of the things I mentioned above because they wouldn’t exist. The internet is the center of the digital universe, it’s the glue that keeps it together and also the oil that makes it flow smoothly.
Telecommunications has simply become access to the internet and all its glorious goodies. Telephones and their networks have become obsolete for their original purpose - talking and listening. Who needs to voice-comm when you can text or blast info via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn?
Networks have been revolutionized and re-designed to cope with digital data traffic at higher speeds and in ever-increasing volumes. There would be no need if there was no internet, because we would simply be communicating directly with other machines or people. The internet lets us communicate with anything or anyone, anywhere at anytime.
Today’s consumer expects to be connected to the internet 24/7, and that’s their primary expectation from their network operator. Every device that uses a communication network is now designed to make use of the internet - machines talking to each other have even become the “Internet of Things.”
Agent of change
Any attempt to stifle access to the internet is considered a heinous crime and governments are introducing net neutrality laws to prevent any such malevolence. The internet has grown - nay, flourished - on its own with little change since the original concept and development of the ARPANET (which would become the first network to use the internet protocol), despite the occasional meddling of regulators and national security agencies.
It has been praised for being the major change factor of the modern era, and also criticized for being the major change factor of the modern era. It is relatively free of censorship (except for some paranoid countries that try to prevent pornographic or political material from crossing their borders). Even these attempts are generally futile.
The internet has been accused of inciting dissent, being the mouthpiece for terrorists, and even as a threat to some nations’ security. It has also been praised for bringing vital information to those in developing countries to help them grow better crops, bring their goods to market for the right price, and for treating illness and disease effectively in the most remote of regions.
The internet is available in any language and can even translate languages on the fly. It is the source of almost all the information anyone could ever need and is something we have all become dependent on in some way. Children are being educated online. All new technology from inception, to funding, to development and to delivery depends on the internet in some way.
Every device that connects to a network for whatever reason depends on the internet to operate. And it begs the question: have telecoms providers simply become the conduit to the internet? If so, why bother trying to be anything else?
It would be silly to predict the next 25 years in our industry, but it is fairly certain that the internet will continue to be the dominant reason for almost any innovation and access to it will be the primary source of revenue for network operators. Technological innovation will continue to revolve around faster, better, and more consistent access to the internet - wherever we may be. Lose the internet and the world as we know it would probably end.
MORE COVERAGE OF 2040 PREVIEW:
- The next 25 years
- The internet and the end of the world as we know it
- This is what you want, this is what you get
- The future’s so bright, the IoT’s gotta wear shades
- The next 25 years of innovation will only take five years
- Take my wallet, my shoes, my watch ... just leave me my smartphone
- From PNETS to outer space
This article first appeared in Telecom Asia May/June 2015 edition