This week marks the 40th anniversary of the first public telephone call placed on a handheld mobile phone. On April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper, then general manager of Motorola’s Communications Systems Division, called a competitor at Bell Labs from a New York City street. With that call a new era was born. Mr Cooper’s phone weighed almost a kilogram, provided 30 minutes of talk time and cost nearly $4,000 -approximately $15,000 in today’s terms.
Mobile communication has come a long way since, and we are only beginning to explore its true potential. Connected devices like smartphones, tablet computers and laptops are ubiquitous, and their numbers are continuing to soar. According to Cisco’s Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI), there will be 8.6 billion handheld or personal mobile-ready devices in use by 2017.
Surprisingly, following Cooper’s call another eight years passed before mobile networks appeared in Australia. But since the nation’s first commercial mobile phone service launched in August 1981, mobiles have rapidly added features while shrinking in size and cost. By the time touchscreen smartphones appeared in 2007, what was once a simple two-way radio has flourished into the centre of digital life, encompassing personal and business communications, music and video entertainment, social networking, shopping and payment, banking, navigation and much more.
The mobile and Wi-Fi networks that power these mobile devices have also evolved. Instead of simply voice, phones would be able to handle location-based services, GPS applications and rich media like streaming video. Today’s 4G systems and dependable Wi-Fi connections promise ultra-broadband access, IP telephony, high-definition video, and cloud applications.
Whether we’re talking about mobile networks or Wi-Fi, people have come to expect fast, reliable wireless connections everywhere. Networking is all around us and it’s changing the way we work, live, and play.
Beyond mobile - the Internet of Everything
The next wave of innovation will take us beyond collaboration and commerce into the Internet of Everything (IoE). The IoE will bring together people, processes, data and things to make networked connections that are more valuable and relevant than ever before.
Network devices will continue to become smaller, less expensive, more ubiquitous and more intelligent and specialised. They will enable people to connect to the internet and other people in countless new ways. Tomorrow’s “mobile device” might actually be a wristband with two-way video, or a tiny voice-controlled lapel pin, or a set of eyeglasses with lenses that can display a virtual world.
We’ll also see communication extend beyond people to physical items, including sensors, consumer devices, business machines and even structures, utility systems, and vehicles—all connected to the Internet and to each other. One day soon, your water heater might routinely “call” your dishwasher to let the dishwasher know there’s plenty of hot water to scrub the pots and pans. The Cisco Mobile VNI predicts that by 2016, nearly 19 billion mobile connections will exist globally—more than two connections per person on earth.
As the things connected to the internet continue to evolve, they will become more intelligent, learning to acquire more and better data. They will provide a richer level of information back to computers and people, helping us make faster, more intelligent decisions. A tiny networked camera in your car connected to a weather app might be “aware” of rainy conditions and use sensors or lasers to predict a collision and alert you before it happens—or even hit the brakes for you.
Process plays a key role in how people, data, and things all interact with one another in this highly interconnected world. The right process makes these connections relevant and valuable, because the right information is delivered to the right person or device, at the right time. For example, intelligent jet engines will be monitored in real-time, in flight from land-based data centres. Large amounts of data from these engines will be processed continuously by computers to ensure optimal performance, efficiency and safety, only inserting humans into the process when manual intervention is absolutely necessary.
A brave new world
The intelligent network is what brings the Internet of Everything together. It’s the underlying environment that makes things like indoor and outdoor location-based services, cloud computing and other mobile applications possible. The network enables organisations to collect and analyse the data and manage the processes that make connections on the Internet of Everything so powerful. As companies and governments anticipate the arrival of the next wave of the Internet, they are focused on building networks that can grow and evolve to accommodate more people, things, and information than ever before.
In a 2010 BBC interview, Martin Cooper commented that social networking and other mobile applications were beyond his understanding four decades ago. But he also added that the mobile of the future might simply be a tiny chip embedded in the human body. The mobile phone itself might be a thing of the past forty years from now, but connections, both mobile and Wi-Fi, will be more important than ever. Network connectivity is more than just a way to communicate—it’s a strategic business priority.
Kevin Bloch is the CTO of Cisco Australia and New Zealand.