“In a 4G world, wireless will connect everything. There's really no limit to the number of connections that can be part of the mobile grid: vehicles, appliances, buildings, roads, medical monitors. This 'Internet of Things' will infuse intelligence into all our systems and present us with a whole new way to run a home, an enterprise, a community or an economy.” –Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon's chairman and CEO
Before we get into discussing the rapid approach of 4G wireless networks that’ll start fundamentally changing the way people and industries work, I’d like to admit something: I am totally the wrong person to be posting this.
Look, I still have a cassette player in my minivan (in all its decrepit red glory at right) – and still listen to the old mix-tapes I made over two and a half decades ago as a teenager. I still read paper-bound books (dog-eared sci-fi novels gleaned from library sales and used book stores); I take notes long hand, with pen and paper; I go to stores to buy stuff and can’t (for the life of me!) manage to order things off the Internet without a lot of ridiculous things going wrong; I still pay all my bills with paper checks.
All those Luddite tendencies aside, though, modern technology is totally infused into my life and the lives of countless millions like me. Video and photos are all digital now, slapped together on the same laptop for stories (and blog posts like this). I would be lost without my cell phone and anything less than high-speed Internet makes me grind my teeth.
It’s the same in trucking. Though the fundamentals remain the same as they did over 70 years ago – you’re moving goods from point A to point B, after all; can’t get much more basic than that – the basic functionality of freight continues to undergo rapid change. Paperwork is all going electronic; drivers communicate by cell phone; data is being gleaned off trucks so technicians can fix them faster and better.
Now we’re about to hit the next big evolution point in all of this – the advent of the 4G wireless network. The term “4G” refers to the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards. We’ve gone from analog transmission with the first generation (1G) to digital (2G), followed by multi-media support, spread spectrum transmission and at least 200 kilobits per second (3G) and now 4G, which refers to all “Internet Protocol’ or “IP” packet switched networks, mobile ultra-broadband (gigabit speed) access and multi-carrier transmission.
[Below you can watch several Verizon executives discuss the ramp-up process to 4G from the recent 2010 wireless convention held in Las Vegas.]
Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon's chairman and CEO, recently talked about how this “next phase” in the evolution of wireless is going to change everything – especially in terms of how individuals and businesses use the Internet.
“The Internet drives some $400 billion in annual economic activity, transports billions of dollars' worth of intellectual cargo and has turned every multinational company that wants to remain competitive into a giant information processing machine,” he said during a speech before the Council of Foreign Relations this week.
“A robust and functioning Internet is a laboratory for innovation, a platform for collaboration, a spur to productivity, a means to higher living standards and a conduit for exporting values of openness and freedom around the world,” Seidenberg (at left) noted. “With advances in fiber and wireless technologies, we're on the cusp of a new growth curve for the Internet and a wave of innovation with tremendous potential to address the big issues facing the global economy, including energy, poverty, education and health care.”
He added that the deployment of what he called “game-changing” fiber networks and 4G LTE (fourth-generation, Long Term Evolution) wireless networks will be the heart of American competitiveness and global economic progress.
“LTE will increase data speeds on wireless networks by up to 10 times, comparable to today's wired broadband solutions,” Seidenberg said. “But the real transformative idea about 4G goes beyond the whole notion of a wireless ‘phone.’ In the 4G world, wireless will connect everything: not just people-to-people, but also people-to-machine and machine-to-machine.”
[Ericsson Federal’s President and CEO Douglas C. Smith recently discussed his company's adoption of 4G technology and why it’s going to fundamentally change things.]
As 4G capabilities get embedded into our environment, Seidenberg said, there's really no limit to the number of connections that can be part of the mobile grid: vehicles, appliances, buildings, roads, medical monitors, inventory on trucks or in warehouses or on supermarket shelves. This "Internet of things" will infuse intelligence into all our systems and present us with a whole new way to run a home, an enterprise, a community or an economy, he believes.
“We're testing LTE as we speak and will start to deploy it throughout the U.S. later this year,” Seidenberg noted. “We are also jump-starting innovation in LTE handsets, equipment, software and machine-to-machine applications by opening up the development process to entrepreneurs and creating our own innovation lab.”
It’s all about tapping into technology to allow humanity to address issues and solve problems in ways that simply weren't available before, he stressed. “Already, researchers are developing micro-cameras that can be swallowed like pills to diagnose illness. E-wallets and mobile commerce will remove yet another layer of friction from commercial transactions, as is happening in Japan today. Using smart grids and mobile technologies to manage electric power could create 280,000 new jobs and cut carbon emissions by more than 20% in the next ten years,” Seidenberg said. “The list goes on.”
[Again, some more insight on this seismic technological shift from Ericsson Federal’s President and CEO Douglas C. Smith]
Of course, challenges await alongside such opportunities, too. In Seidenberg’s view, one of the largest is in making the Internet bigger and better. “Already, the amount of digital information created exceeds the available storage space,” he said. “Global IP traffic will grow at a 40% compound annual growth rate from 2008 to 2013, driven by demand for mobile data and high-definition video. Internet traffic is growing by more than 25% a year in Asia-Pacific, the fastest in the world. As a wise man once said, ‘I think we're gonna need a bigger boat.’”
He also pointed out that the Internet needs to be more secure, as well. “Just as we have to keep our shipping lanes free from pirates, we need to keep our digital thoroughfares open and free from cyber-threats,” Seidenberg stressed.
“The Verizon security teams tell me that they monitor more than five billion – that's ‘billion’ with a ‘b’ – security events per day on the global Internet,” he explained. “We need to be able to keep innovating, keep building intelligence into our networks, and build in the reliability and security on which the Internet economy relies. Policies that limit innovation on the part of network providers, such as net neutrality, run counter to this goal.”
These are big issues, set alongside big goals, but Seidenberg feels the benefits from all this may be huge for everyone – even for this reluctant Luddite.