Our wired future | Daily News

Our wired future

The bedrock on which our world has been built is communication. From the carrier pigeons of yesteryear to videoconferencing, we have devised various ways to keep in touch with each other. Today, we can video call someone on the other side of the world for free, as long as we like thanks to the power of the Internet that has linked the entire world. We can instantly transfer files and photos, chat by text and voice and shop the entire world all from the comfort of a cozy armchair at home.

But the origin of all this lies in an invention called the telephone, which is now more than 140 years old. The telephone enabled us to call anyone anywhere in the world by dialing a few numbers. Long before radio waves were discovered, telephone signals were sent through wires. Today, we do not need any wires to talk – everyone on the planet has at least two mobile phones and apps such as What’s App and Viber have made video calling as easy as ABC.

This does not mean that the traditional telephone is dead. Far from being as dead as a dodo, the International Direct Dialling (IDD) system is very much alive. No web-based service can still match the quality of the traditional IDD call. Just as the late Arthur C Clarke predicted, an international call is now only marginally more expensive than a local call. And did you know that most of our international conversations (and data) are still sent over the wire across continents, despite the availability of satellites?

Sri Lanka has always occupied a pivotal position in the international telecom sphere thanks to its geographic position at the centre of the East-West maritime transport lines. This is why Sri Lanka has been a prime landing spot for the South East Asia – Middle East – Western Europe 5 (SEA-ME-WE) state-of-the-art submarine cable system that can carry both voice and data.

The latest SEA-ME-WE 5 submarine cable system, for which a landing station was commissioned in Matara by President Maithripala Sirisena this week, spans approximately 20,000 km, offering POP-to-POP (Point of Presence) solutions from Singapore to Europe via France and Italy. The system connects 17 countries and serves as a new platform for development in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry.

The conceptualization of the new submarine cable system evolved around the capacity requirements of the various continents to support the next generation of Internet applications. The SEA-ME-WE 5 cable is designed to provide upgradeable transmission facilities by adopting the latest state-of-the-art multiple 100 GBPS technology. When fully loaded, the SEA-ME-WE 5 cable system is capable of carrying a total 24 terabytes per second, the equivalent of transmitting around 4,800 high-definition movies every second. No wireless system can still match these speeds.

Sri Lanka has been in the forefront of communications technology in South Asia. Sri Lanka was the first to introduce Optical Fibre, 3G and 4G and hopefully, will be the first to introduce 5G when this next generation wireless protocol goes on air around 2020 offering up to 100 times faster download and streaming speeds for HD video, data and audio than existing 4G. Local telecom companies have already trailed 4.5G systems, so this target is perfectly achievable.

Wired or wireless, the Internet will be the biggest beneficiary of the coming telecom revolution. There is even a term for the future in which everything and everyone will be connected all the time. It is called the Internet of Things (IoT). Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home AI voice assistants are just a preview of the IoT revolution, which will connect up to 50 billion devices from microwave ovens to cars in the next few years. In fact, motoring will be the biggest beneficiary of 5G and IoT, with the industry predicting fully autonomous cars on our roads by 2030.

These autonomous cars require a network that can facilitate multiple interactions between numerous connected devices. The traffic lights, road signs, weather stations, other cars and pedestrian crossings will all send network signals instantaneously to communicate road conditions to the car, allowing for a safer driving experience. The amount of bandwidth required to connect these devices together is not available on the 4G network. Also, autonomous cars will have the necessary reaction time to engage the brakes inches from obstacles, a feat simply not possible on the 4G network.

Our regulations must be flexible enough to allow for this rapid expansion in telecom capacity and capability. Our lawmakers have shown that they are among the most forward thinking in South Asia when it comes to telecom expansion and regulation. The Government recently slashed taxes on data rates and is on a drive to make more free Wi Fi hotspots available. Telecom devices and related products such as laptops attract little or no duties and taxes. The Government has also introduced the Smart Classroom concept for senior classes which will showcase future educational concepts, most of which are already feasible. A brave new world is coming and we must all be ready for it. 


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