A Policy Maker Asking a Wireless Technologist About the Future

Next-generation wireless networks are portrayed as the force to create a super-connected world. This photo is taken from an article by CableLabs on the role of policies in shaping the wireless future.

A few days ago, I was approached by a fellow wireless technologist leading the discussions on Digital Technology within the realm of The G20 Summit. He posed the following composite question:

1) What are the future wireless technologies that you think will have a disruptive impact? 2) Why are they important to the economy and public interest? 3) What challenges would they bring along? and 4) What should policy makers and regulators do to alleviate those challenges?

That was indeed a thought-provocative question. So I said I will think about it. But quickly did I realize how tough such a speculative question can be!

Anyway, I decided to take a hit at it. I immediately decided to avoid talking about anything related to quantum communications. Not only it is outside my comfort zone, but it is also one that entails a multitude of variables, unknowns, contentious facts, and discrepancies. At least that’s the way I personally see it.

So I took a safe route and ended up selecting three areas of wireless technology whose development, evolution road map, and value proposition seem to be sufficiently predictable even on the long run.

Here are my picks …

6G networks and beyond

From “What should 6G be?” Image credit: Ivan Gromicho, KAUST.

When it comes to 6G networks and beyond (a.k.a. sometimes as B6G), I’d like to shy away from speculating the use cases of the technology (which are almost countless). Rather, I’m interested in shedding some light on the the value proposition of B6G for network operators.

In addition to conventional base stations, the mobile network of the future would entail the deployment a massive number of distributed network assets (distributed antennas, intelligent reflecting surfaces, airborne drone cells, back-scattering elements, etc.) The number of B6G assets maintained by a network operator is expected to be an order of magnitude more than predecessor generations.

The majority of these network elements will have a dominantly smaller form factor. The compactness in form factor and pervasiveness of network elements is going to offer two advantages: 1) Better economies of scale, and 2) Lower barrier to entry for smaller players. The former comes from the law of large quantities. The latter results from the fact that highly integrated network elements is no longer mainstream. Hence, smaller startups and companies will have the chance to compete in the market head-to-head against historical players in the telecom industry.

However, for those same reasons (compactness and pervasiveness), it is expected that the roll out of B6G networks will draw substantial public backlash and in some extreme cases, vandalism! Conscious of all of the network assets surrounding them, people will be mostly concerned about health implications related to electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). They will also worry about aesthetic effects in addition to privacy concerns (particularly when it comes to airborne drone cells overlooking their households).

There should be significant public outreach efforts to ensure evolution of technology is in line with people’s expectation. While recent incidents of putting 5G towers on fire were sporadic and isolated, this might not be the case for B6G networks. Winning public support is not an easy feat but is very crucial.

At the other of the spectrum, standards development bodies should be urged to make networks more resilient to sabotage. The fact that B6G networks are pervasive and ubiquitous in itself allows to build a good level of network redundancy.

Body nano-networks

Advancement in bio- and nano-technology will eventually result in nano-scale sensors, actuators, and implantable devices that can be employed on or in the human body. It is going to be the next wave of wearable technology. These nano-devices may interact with each other as well as with the end-user to form a body nano-network.

Nanotechnology is expected to reach a stage where nano-actuators are used to tackle notorious health issues like back pain and spinal injuries. Image credit: from Forbes article on nanotechnology.

Nano-devices are poised to carry on from where wearable technology seems to have stagnated. They will cover a wide spectrum of applications in health, medical, and fitness.

Nano-devices can be quite intrusive in terms of information they are collecting from the body and the physical, chemical, or biological properties they are actuating/affecting. Commercial products have to be rigorously tested to ensure they operated as advertised. They must be also audited diligently against cyber-security loopholes before they are shipped to the market.

Compliance testing standards have to be developed. These must encompass inter-disciplinary checks in terms of cyber-security, biotechnology, and medical compliance. End-users must also be granted access to standardized cost-effective audit services, i.e. whereby nano-devices are certified not to pose any privacy, cyber-security, or malfunction concern.

Internet of Space (IoS)

(image credit: European Space Agency)

Well, here I am referring to a space inter-connectivity fabric created as a result of the future proliferation of high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned vehicles as well as miniaturized cubic satellites (Cubesats). Traditionally, these platforms have been considered as means to boost terrestrial network coverage. Going forward, they will start forming a heterogeneous network of space network that can serve celestial and space assets (spaceships, stations, spacecraft, etc.)

One area where IoS would play an instrumental and enabling role is space mining. The abundance of high-value minerals on the lunar surface has been attracting great attention recently (see Forbes article). As space mining operations ramp up, there would be a dire need to manage spacecraft traffic as we do today in aviation. We’d also need to manage moon surface exploration operations as much as we currently do for hydrocarbon exploration on earth. The IoS will offer the platform to interconnect all of the space assets involved in mining.

The real challenge is to build HALE and Cubesat platforms that speak the same language, at least from a communications technology point of view. There will be also the need to build and install lunar surface connectivity stations that will complement and strengthen the IoS reach, capability, and coverage. IoS asset deployment and communications protocols must ensure open and timely access to data.

Standardization at an early stage of technology development is key for the success of the IoS. Universal policies for deployment, installation, and commissioning of IoS systems should be discussed and ratified early on.

Those were my picks. What would be yours?! Happy to see your comments.

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Entrepreneurial Technologist | Innovation Enthusiast

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Ahmed Bader

Ahmed Bader

Entrepreneurial Technologist | Innovation Enthusiast

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