During the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of digital technologies and access to the Internet took on new importance, especially in sectors like finance, media, e-commerce, and education.. Governments and industry had to leapfrog their plans for digital transformation on their business processes and services. What would have normally taken two to three years to complete was now compressed into a six to 12-month window.
One of the most striking side-effects of this has been an increase in the volume of data being generated outside the traditional boundaries of the business-home environment such as web-based conferencing for meetings, lectures, and business transactions. Indeed, some companies were “reportedly carrying up to 60% more data on their networks than they did before the crisis”, according to the Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2021- 2025. Apart from business/commercial data, there has also been a rise in the amount of data generated by streaming and catch-up video services, online shopping, social media, and multi-player gaming as citizens remained indoors for longer periods.
This trend is leading to a plethora of Internet-enabled sensors and devices generating all sorts of data from domains such as smartphones, wearables, air-land-sea vehicles, humans, animals, buildings, infrastructure, and utilities. Estimates vary as to the many millions of devices that are added to the Internet every month.
A number of technology trends are seeing increasing investments and adoption from governments and industry including Artificial Intelligence (AI); Faster Mobile Networks ; Autonomous Vehicles; Industrial and Service Robots; Blockchain-Cyber Security; New Energy Vehicles (NEVs); Renewable and Biodegradable Plastics Materials; Net-zero IoT Sensors; and Data Trust Frameworks.
One area that provides the glue for all these technologies to connect, cooperate and collaborate is the underpinning digital networks (fixed, wireless, satellite) that carry all the data generated by these applications and services. It will take many forms — from a high-speed optical local, regional, a national network that carries broadband services to homes and businesses, to the 4G/5G wireless network that connects your phone, car or smartwatch.
In many places, the underlying digital infrastructure is just not there and we end up with areas of a region with no connectivity at all. This so-called Digital Divide is a global challenge and solutions are needed to address the disparity and inequality of access to the Internet.
To cope with the onset of this data obesity, there are many new emerging areas of research such as Quantum Internet, Softwarisation and cloudification, Petabit Networking, Net-zero Networks, Efficient Sensing for Sufficient Networking. Other areas are gaining attention such as OpenRAN and Disaggregation, Edgeification, Fully-convergent Networks, AI-Enabled Service Management and network resource orchestration.
All of these areas point to the need for a rethink of the design and build for future telecommunications networks supporting the full end-to-end pathways from edge devices to a data center and everything in between.
The writer is Head of School of Computing Sciences Chair in Telecommunications Engineering University of East Anglia, UK.