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Shaping the future of communications

Shaping the future of communications

“When you dial into 2021 make sure it is with systems which meet your needs rather than the other way around.” That was the closing comment in our most recent article “Dialling in to 2021.” Now Ofcom research has highlighted just a few of the communication system changes which may well be heading our way.

Seeing their remit as much about preparing for the future as managing the present, in 2020 Ofcom invited contributions from global technology experts in a bid to understand what technological changes may be on the horizon. The responses have now been collated into a ‘Technology Futures’ report covering a wide range of developments in the field of communications.

The authors broadly divide their findings into five areas; immersive communications, mobile and wireless, fixed and optical, broadcasting and media, and satellite. The report is well worth reviewing in full but for now we have just picked out a few of the highlights:

  • Beyond Shannon’s limits. In 1948 Claude Shannon identified the maximum amount of data which can be transmitted in a given bandwidth. In recent years 4G and 5G have come close to those maximum boundaries with questions being raised about whether we had reached the limit. Now research into the use of intelligent reflecting surfaces including metamaterials within networks has potentially opened up the way to further extending coverage and consistency. Quite simply, by re-examining fundamental assumptions, it is possible that researchers could take data communications beyond what has been assumed to be a finite limit.
  • Applying AI. The shuffling of data between the computing unit and computer memory takes up time and energy. Now researchers are investigating the possibility of neuromorphic computing in which calculations are carried out directly in the memory. This has the potential to speed up results and reduce energy consumption.
  • Taking fibre to a new level. Fibre has come a long way since its first deployment in the 1970s. So much so that a single fibre could in theory provide enough capacity to download the entire Netflix library in less than a second.  However, unless fibre is laid to premises any theoretical speed is blunted by the necessity to use copper cables to complete the connection. Further developments in fibre connectivity are being explored; in particular in the use of complex optical fibres, such as multi-core fibres and hollow core, and dense integrated optics. These are anticipated to not only increase capacity but also to enable more complex or adaptive networks.

Developments such as these may not seem to have immediate relevance for businesses which simply want to communicate with customers or staff. However, the same could have been said for internet telephony (VoIP) when it was first developed and now that is driving increased communications at a reduced cost for many organisations. When the potential opens up for improved broadband and internet coverage, when people in hard to reach areas are no longer isolated, that’s when barriers to trade and communication can truly start to come down.