Observations from The 6th Future of Wireless International Conference – “Changing the World with Wireless”
One of 42 Technology’s leading wireless specialists, Andy Rhodes, attended this year’s Cambridge Wireless Future of Wireless International Conference which set out to examine both the commercial opportunities as well as the wider societal benefits that might be made possible through the imaginative application of wireless technologies.
In addition to the recurring theme of changing the world for good, one of the primary questions that the conference left Andy asking himself was “Is wireless technology becoming too complex?”
Dr Sally Uren, CEO Forum for the Future, stated that of the 7Bn people in the world, 6Bn have a mobile phone but only 4.5Bn have sanitation. Cherie Blair talked about mobile technology enabling women to set up businesses in developing countries. In Kenya, M-PESA, a system to bring banking to the unbanked through the mobile phone network, now handles 43% of GDP.
With the ever increasing demands on bandwidth, the technology becomes more complex. 3G is still evolving, while 4G is being rolled out and 5G is being planned. Yet 4G rolled out without native voice support, requiring fall back to 3G or 2G to make a phone call, with increased delays in setting up calls.
The evolution from 3G to 4G increases bandwidth while 5G is also expected to have additional focus on efficiency, both to increase battery life and to make better use of the scarce radio spectrum. 5G is also expected to make use of even higher frequency bands around 60GHz using smaller cells, requiring complex antenna systems to deliver the performance. This will bring a renewed visibility on the importance of hardware design and antennas.
But not all applications need high bandwidth. The previously mentioned M-PESA works on the 2G SMS network while low power, long battery life sensors may use the GPRS network for longer range. Where high data rate is achieved through smaller cells, coverage in sparsely populated regions becomes an even greater challenge, seamlessly linking different network technologies.
Users are also changing. They are more accepting of technology change and can adopt new devices and applications more quickly. They are more likely to use social media and reach a greater audience. Applications that work well and are relevant will be taken up, those that don’t will fade quickly.
What is clear is that mobile technology brings real benefit to people around the world. As technology becomes more complex to support new, as yet unimagined applications, the key to success will be to remember the users and deliver solutions that continue to change the world for good.