Breaking barriers: Enabling innovation with global communications
From an era where proximity once dictated our interactions, the advent of modern communication technology has revolutionised the way we connect with the world today.
Gone are the days when real-time conversations were limited to local communities; today, we utilise a myriad of multi-modal capabilities including voice, email, video calls, messaging, social media and web conferencing, to communicate effortlessly with loved ones and colleagues anytime, anywhere. This paradigm shift, driven by advancements in mobile communications, broadband and the internet, has transformed our lives and opened up new possibilities that were once unimaginable.
Shrinking time and distance
In the past, our lives centered around local communities, and conversations were confined to neighbours, friends and relatives in close proximity. The emergence of mobile telephony, social media platforms, and instant messaging applications over the past 30 years has eroded these boundaries.
Along with marketplaces – the Souks and Bazaars of the Middle East-public squares – the piazzas and plazas of southern Europe and Latin America -, and the town halls, civic centers and guildhalls of northern Europe and America, churches, mosques, and other places of worship, were not only central to the spiritual and cultural lives of many societies of yore, they were also prime meeting places where people gathered to interact and exchange information.
Across much of Europe, the church or village noticeboard was a primary channel for disseminating information.
As was the town crier in England or okyeame in West Africa, who carried important community news such as the birth of a prince or the muezzin who called Muslims to prayer. But even the loudest of voices in any of these physical locations was attenuated at some distance. Broadcast transformed much of this in the first instance.
The ubiquity of the internet and social media platforms has however shifted the paradigm, making traditional town criers obsolete and redefined the purposes and value of physical meeting places. The traditional notion of physical gatherings and community meetings has evolved into virtual spaces where like-minded individuals can congregate from anywhere in the world.
Today, individuals in the Howland Islands of the United States can interact instantaneously with others in the Line Islands of the Republic of Kiribati, without regard to distance or time. With advances in holographic communications, physical presence can even be simulated and felt across vast oceans and lands.
Communications technology is driving change everywhere
The dramatic changes we witness today go how we communicate. In years gone by, the food we ate came from the farm next door, water from the local stream, river or below the water table under our feet. Our houses were built from local materials and the carpenter was known to us, as was the blacksmith who forged local metals. And we shopped for essentials in local markets.
In our interconnected world, our patterns of consumption and communications have become truly global. The rise of e-commerce enables us to purchase essentials, books, and virtually any desired product online, regardless of our physical location. Furthermore, the digital revolution has brought the latest movies, music, and other forms of entertainment directly to our fingertips, and to a great majority of us, wherever we find ourselves.
Financial services are undergoing great upheavals thanks to communications technology. High street retail banks are disappearing and while ATMs still exist, digital payments are on the rise. Today, 3.2 billion (or 40 per cent) of the world’s population have access to digital wallets; by 2030 this will increase to 65 per cent further disrupting traditional payment intermediaries.
In healthcare, transportation, and many other industries, we are witnessing similar disruptions driven by the communications and cloud computing revolutions of the past two-to-three decades.
New models of communications, new requirements
The journey of communication continues, fuelled by advancements brought about by successive generations of mobile technology from 2G to 5G, cloud computing, and now, generative artificial intelligence (AI).
With its faster speeds, reduced latency, and increased capacity, 5G will enable seamless connectivity and new forms of communications and interactions as new devices like Apple’s Vision Pro and competing AR/VR devices become mainstream. Instead of walking around with smartphones, we may interact and communicate via wearables on our faces, wrists, and other parts of our body, including the clothes we wear.
When the PC gave way to smartphones, new user interactions with touchscreens and voice activation (via Siri, and Alexa among others) became standard. Tomorrow’s spatial communications devices, such as AR/VR glasses and other wearables will supplant smartphones and enable new forms of interactions via body movements (e.g., eye movements) to flourish.
New device and interaction models will impose greater capacity and performance requirements on the network. Form and function tradeoffs will necessitate that processing be offloaded to the Edge/Cloud, to keep devices lightweight, reduce heat dissipation and will in turn drive the need for ultra-fast connectivity available with 5G.
5G and the cloud will enable new, immersive experiences that will further redefine retail and commerce, healthcare education, training, and much else besides.
Towards a future of frictionless communications
Advances in conversational AI are a step toward eradicating a final barrier that will usher in the nirvana of real-time multi-lingual communications – everyone will be able to communicate with one another in any mode, without regard to language. It will pave the way for a future where seamless global communication becomes a reality, transcending cultural, economic, geographical and language barriers.
With 5G, AI and cloud we stand at the cusp of another technological shift toward an even more interconnected world with endless possibilities for innovation that are unimaginable today.
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