Sunday, May 15, 2011

World Telecommunications and Information Society Day 2011

We will be celebrating World Telecommunications and Information Society Day on 17th May 2011. At this point, let us look at the history of Telecommunications and look at some trends as to what the future portends.

That technology would tend towards obsolescence was pretty clear even in the 18th century. Soon after the semaphore towers went live, there emerged electrical telegraphy, which was over-shadowed by wireless telegraphy. All in a span of 40 years from 1792 onwards. Less than a century from this date, a wireless telephone call was demonstrated. Albeit, the scientific concept of this wireless call via modulated lightbeams was later used in fiber optic networks.

Thus the 19th century was a century of the telephone and telegraph. Of course there were doubting thomases and all these experiments were sometimes dismissed as new fangled thoughts and impractical inventions. There is an apocryphal story of President Rutherford praising the telephone as an amazing invention but doubting who would want to use one anyway!

Further work in the early part of the 20th century saw voices being transmitted from one corner of the globe to the other. There was also the curious matter of pictures being beamed into people's homes which saw the birth of the modern entertainment industry. The two wars in the first half of this century gave an impetus to communications research. Most of the technology we use today finds a seed of an idea in the military research done at this time.

From the 1940s onward we see the rise of computing power and the introduction of networking within twenty years. The latter part of the twentieth century upto the 80s sees a consolidation and growth in computing and networking. From this point on every decade has seen us taking several steps forward  in technological advancements.

The '80s belonged to the popularisation of computing power while the 90s saw widespread adoption of the the internet. While the technological heart skipped a beat at the turn of the century, fearing the apocalypse of Y2K, it quickly recovered to see the first decade of the 21st century lead to an almost endemic growth of mobile and social networking.

What next?
Now that we have moved eons beyond the initial incredulity of voices and pictures being transmitted from one place to another, and have succeeded in making the internet mobile, it does beg the question - what next?

Let us look at some of the trends we see taking hold in this second decade. The mobile workplace is definitely here to stay and e-mail has been pretty tough to dislodge so far despite the various waves of alternate communications. Digital means of doing business can still be said to be emerging and could be the next big thing. Cloud is definitely the toast of the town at the moment. History shows us that successful inventions need to catch the popular imagination to survive. History also tells us that new technology is more often than not built from innovations on top of previous technology. The Internet became widespread by using the old telephone and television networks.

Hence, I dare to predict that this decade will belong to networked business communication in pretty much the same way social networking took the first decade by storm. Organisations will become more and more virtual and we should soon see the establishment of an entire office infrastructure on the cloud. Especially as the digital generation starts entering the workforce, every bit of paper and physical transaction will be questioned for efficiency and productivity.

What would be interesting to watch is the socio-economic impact of these new developments. Would the big corporations be early movers and monopolize the virtual space or would this lead to the emergence of challenger organisations who would be much more nimble and open to such an idea? Would rural business take a lead over urban given that the economies of distance and opportunity would make it far more advantageous for them to be ravenous adapters to new technology?