In just over a century we have discovered how to harness the power and value of the electromagnetic spectrum – just as we did in bygone eras with fire, agriculture, domesticated animals, steam and fossil fuels.
And yet, in spite of our growing list of achievements, each generation forgets at its peril the fragile nature of our continued existence on Earth.
We need a new way of thinking and a new way of seeing the world.
People looking for simple yes-no values for their big data experiments and concrete answers to justify clean-cut hypotheses will be disappointed.
We need new conceptual tools to manage the data that we are being bombarded with.
We are moving through an uncertain present towards a future that is still far from clear.
In the area of mobile communications this period coincides with the move from a relatively stable 2G (GSM/TETRA) world of the early 2000s to an end-game 5G world by the end of the 2020s, passing through a very messy 3G/4G (UMTS/LTE) world where different technologies collide, producing friction.
We stand on the edge of a new era – the 5G era of smart cities, smart grids, Internet of Things, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and Blockchain – where ubiquitous networked sensors, actuators, algorithms, robots and other devices embedded with powerful capabilities will demand new ways of creating, distributing and storing value.
We will have new methods of organising ourselves, and new legal and social norms for dealing with a contemporary generation of conflicts and co-ordination problems. Although we have no clear idea yet what the 5G era will look like (and there are bound to be infinite surprises along the way) a growing number of players are beginning to articulate likely scenarios.
Can we cope when we are forced to compete against alternative forms of intelligence, created by us, but in many ways much more powerful than ourselves? The Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance published a whitepaper last year detailing a number of use cases that highlight the major challenges facing governments, developers, operators, investors and potential users.
These groups are all required to deliver and embrace a holistic 5G vision within a reasonable timeframe, based on the hard realities facing all stakeholders in 2016: There is no way that we will be able to deliver this vision by building 5G networks based on a single air interface, a single architecture and particularly not on an ageing internet based on TCP/IP and other current protocols.
This society will require critical communications all the way to its edge.
We will need new mechanisms to deliver universal coverage, or else this ambitious vision will fail.