It’s estimated that 40% of the world is connected in one way or another, with this expected to rise to 100% over the next 20 years. Ultimately, this will democratise internet access, but result in 8 or 9 billion people requiring network capabilities. With the burgeoning digital revolution 2.0 and the exponential need to connect ‘things’ as well as people, a reliable and dependable infrastructure will be critical. It seems fitting then that the Wired2016 conference was sponsored by Telefonica, one of the world’s largest telecommunications providers, as the emergence of IoT and M2M blur the lines between sectors, and telcos become increasingly tasked with connecting millions of devices, machines and users.
For a conference I had always perceived as purely tech focused, I thought I knew what to expect when I was invited to Wired2016. I wasn’t disappointed: the event oscillated along the technological spectrum from app-aided sleep to the Singularity and everything in between. Telefonica’s Test Lab, a hotbed of technology and design, featured an array of developments from the fun to the functional: biometric authentication software, a start-up success predictor, and Pepper, an emotionally perceptive humanoid robot that moved and interacted autonomously.
Yet in a world where we’re experiencing the digitalisation of anything and everything, one can’t help but wonder if many new advancements are developed out of a genuine need or pure frivolity. At Wired though, it seemed different. The air was alive with a sense of technological utopianism with a real focus on the democratisation of knowledge, the reduction of inequality, and the improvement of the global quality of life through technological advancement and connectivity.
This was both humbling and surprising, as it appears to be de-rigueur these days to talk about the disparity between those who work in tech and the rest of the UK. Apparently, we’re constantly connected, often have more than one smartphone and a deluge of other devices, and reside in cozy echo chambers cut off from the reality of much of the UK. But, whether you identify with this trope or not, the disparity is undeniable when compared with many corners of the globe.
Worldwide, a billion people will come online for the first time using a mobile device in the coming years, according to Kavin Mittal of Hike Messenger. However, many of these people don’t have access to mains power, leading to the development of kinetic, portable energy from the likes of Uncharted Play and BuffaloGrid in the bid to democratise energy consumption worldwide and achieve global connectivity. At the same time, a socio-cultural shift towards open source software has expanded into hardware to democratise production too, of anything from a global village construction set to beehives and bionic limbs. OpenBionics showcased their work for the latter, creating 3D files that can be sent, downloaded and printed anywhere in the world with using a 3D printer for just a fraction of the cost.
Ultimately, this is all made possible due to the disruption of the traditional feedback channel of the “dump pipe”, now an intricate web between consumer, telco and machine through an undefined number of gateways, allowing for unprecedented connectivity and insight into consumer behaviour. With 5G technology, this will become even more interactive and responsive, learning and optimising as communications continue.
Of course, there is work to be done and considerations to be made when mapping the options for networks. 100% global connectivity may be a while yet, but consumers and businesses alike will only reap the full benefits of the connected world if the infrastructures underpinning it are flexible, scalable and adaptable. The GSMA and other industry bodies are working with the likes of Telefonica to ensure operator capabilities are tailored for emergent business models and technological advancements, building a trusted, networked infrastructure of the future that all stakeholders can rely on.