At the start of my career, driving around Liverpool to visit operational teams on gas engineering projects, this was “state of the art” for mobile communications. We called it “the brick”. I would pick up my keys to the van and the lead engineer would call over “Neil, don’t forget the brick” … THE brick … just one, not a lot of bricks, as we would all share the one; whoever was duty engineer at that time.
This mobile device came in its own bag, to be worn casually over the shoulder. The brick part of the set up consisted of the battery and wireless communications.
Technology that is personal
I came across this relic from the past on a recent visit to the 5G Innovation Centre and test bed at the University of Surrey to discuss a potential collaboration with Rahim Tafazolli, Regius Professor of Electronic Engineering. In the reception they have devices that span the entire history of mobile communications devices, and the thing is this: it was like a personal history; I could spot every handset I had either owned or used to the present day. From the large and clunky to the small and sleek; from purely functional telephone to super computer with 70 apps.
Technology that is exponential
From a technology perspective the roadmap is startling and, looking at the dates on each device, exponential in the rate of change; there is a long period of time where the devices operate purely as phones and then rapid advancement with the introduction of the iPhone.
Regardless of the functionality of the device, the ability to utilise greater functionality depends on the nature of the network. With the introduction of the first 1G network in 1983 in the US, it was Japan who led the introduction of 3G in 2001; now South Korea is predicted to be first country with a national 5G network in 2019 (the first functioning small-scale 5G implementation occurred in 2017 2017with Verizon in the US).
Technology that unlocks everything
Mobile technology has already supported the transformation of whole economies and provided people with the means to lift themselves out of poverty. Take for example Africa where the lack of banking infrastructure was leaving people without access to money and, even if they were lucky enough to be banked, the methods for people sending money “home” from more developed economies was extremely expensive; the solution has not been to wait for investment but to use the mobile phone to bypass traditional means through services such as mpesa and the adoption of technology such as blockchain to reduce transaction costs and make the network work even more effectively for people.
5G, with low latency, faster speeds and increased bandwidth is set to further unlock the potential for life changing applications. Of course, it will enable faster streaming of content to devices for entertainment purposes, but it has the potential to be so much more than a supercharger for more consumerism.
5G, combined with technology such as Narrow Band IoT, LoRan, edge computing, distributed storage and blockchain has the potential to enable true autonomous vehicles, real-time telemedicine, remote surgical operations, smart cities and much more.
So, I stand and look at the devices on display at the 5G Innovation Centre, reflect on my own personal history and the impact that this technology has had on people across the world. I don’t know exactly where this is going to go. I do know it has the potential to be incredible.