Want to understand what’s coming in communications? Tero Pesonen looks at how we manage today and suggests we need to look beyond our boundaries
When you think about the future of communications, there are three dimensions to consider. One is people, ourselves: what we are, our capabilities and our limitations. Another is, of course, technology. And the third is the environment. Let’s look at each of them.
People: how do we communicate today, and why do we do it like that? Let’s jump back to the past, to maybe 200 years ago. In those days, the fastest way of communicating with somebody who didn’t live just next door or in the same village was by letter. The data highway of that time was the pony express.
Communication then was very local. But the world was very small and local, for most people. If you wanted to conduct a dialogue by writing letters – let’s say, with someone in the US, from Europe – you would get to exchange information basically 12 times a year, because it takes a month for a letter to get to the other side. So the communications time concept was measured in weeks.
Then came revolution. The telephone was invented, and suddenly you had real-time communication. If the other person picked up the telephone, you could both talk. Yet you couldn’t do that everywhere – you could communicate only where telephones were.
Because you couldn’t necessarily reach a specific person, communication time was still at least an hour. You didn’t expect to get an instant answer. But already the world had changed and this new communications tool was beyond the imagination of the pony express age.
Then we come to the modern times of email and mobile phones – and suddenly, we have another revolution. Now you no longer need to know where other people are, you just need to know their code – their mobile phone number or email address. And off your message goes, free of geographical limitations. The time taken is slashed to a matter of minutes. Our society is becoming global; nevertheless, communication is still pretty much person-oriented and target-oriented.
The next level
What does this mean to a human being? Typically, the next level of invention has always been science-fiction, and the step beyond that has been completely beyond imagination. For this reason, I believe it’s really important that we constantly ask ourselves what is actually the optimal way of communicating.
If we consider our present society, our organizations, or anyone who was born pre-1995, we are thinking in hierarchical structures which were basically made post-World War. Now, I think it’s a worthwhile question – is that the best way? Or is it actually preventing progress?
Today we must ask, how is tomorrow going to be?
Of course, social media are already changing the world completely. My elder son, who is 12, is at his computer, playing an online game with people he doesn’t know, somewhere in the world. He’s talking with them on a headset, communicating with unknown people, which is already a strange concept when compared with the past. You wouldn’t have communicated with people you didn’t know.
And on the side, he has Facebook open, seeing what’s going on among his circle – people he knows – and at the same time he has his mobile phone and a bunch of other stuff. So the world is open and private at the same time; it’s hierarchical and it’s flat at the same time.
If we look ahead to 10-15 years’ time, when ubiquitous mobile broadband should be here, those who are now 10 will then be 25. They are the ones who matter. So how can we address them? It seems to me that we, as people, might be a blocking factor.
So next, let’s look at technology. I have picked up two examples from the best inventions of the year 2012 selected by Time magazine. First, the Project Glass by Google – spectacles that project an augmented reality display into your field of vision, direct from the Internet. Just imagine a police officer walking along the street, seeing constantly what’s happening inside this building, or this car – “it’s OK, it’s not stolen, but the tax hasn’t been paid” – all those things, directly in your vision. What, then, is the role of command and control? Is it a different role? What is the role of the person in the field in the first place, when you have all that information?
Another one is Enable Talk Gloves – gloves with sensors. This project, by four Ukrainian students, is for interpreting sign language to text. Obviously, any of us can learn sign language, but not very many do. So when a person with the Enable Talk Gloves is doing sign language, you can view what it means on your mobile phone. In this way we can communicate.
Now if we take this idea to the critical communications world, we can think of a firefighter with a sense-enabled T-shirt. So you’re moving from voice – hearing and talking – first of all to visual alerts but now also to feeling, sensing. You get the command ‘Go!’ and your shirt pushes you. Or if you get the command to back off, it tries to pull you away.
How many things could you guide by such movements? In a noisy or smoky environment, how much would you understand when somebody squeezes you?
Today, I would say we are in a world where the technology is not the limiting factor – it’s our imagination and what we can do with it.
My other factor is the environment. If we look at the environment, of course there’s a regulatory framework which is very important, especially in the line of business where we are. It’s the spectrum, it’s standards, it’s legislation in general.
We are having a great debate on seeking broadband spectrum. That’s all influencing the sandbox where one is allowed to play. And that defines a whole lot of innovation we can use.
We are so dependent on our electricity today, so let’s take that as an example. If there is no electricity, the actions of authority stop after a while. Everything stops. Cyber terrorism is a major concern, and that might persuade us to isolate our secure networks completely. Yet at the same time, in order to be efficient and to have information flowing, we need to have very free networking.
Furthermore, we are now so globalized that whatever happens somewhere, it has an influence on us – be it in the economy, be it on the environment, be it anywhere else. We are pretty much defined by how the environment is, but we need to be adaptive to risks and requirements which are not even known today.
Facebook, Google: 10 years ago, who would have thought about them? Today, if the regulatory framework doesn’t react to such developments, we are losing competitive advantage.
So we have many needs but in this same society we have many stakeholders – in transport, in border security, in maritime, in major events like the Olympics. From a critical communications point of view, what brings them together each time is the need for availability, for security and for interoperability – to be able to do the tasks that society is requesting from them. That is what we need to think of when we consider our three dimensions.
To achieve that requires, I think, a baseline of trust. Without trust there is nothing. We need to trust the other human being in order to be able to co-operate. Trusting also means knowing and understanding how far one can trust them. It’s the same for solutions, systems and ways of working.
What we now see very strongly is voice and data coming together. The world of tomorrow is information-centric, where there is no separation between what is voice and what is information, what’s data. Once you have trust, information translates to knowledge – to knowledge of whether it is best for machines to take care of actions without human beings involved. But also it translates to wisdom, in the sense that you understand what this information means – what kind of action it causes and expects and results in. And that translates then into creation. So it’s about an entire way of working from beginning to end, understanding the dependencies.
Let’s look at the roadmap. The previous decade was the decade of transition from analogue to digital. The current decade I see as the decade to invent information-centric ways of working, and to gain real benefits for society.
From the technology point of view, it’s very clear that the best narrowband technology there is for critical communications is TETRA, and that will remain true. Whenever you have access only to narrowband spectrum, your choice is TETRA – and that’s for this decade, the next decade and the decade after, and we don’t see it changing.
We see TETRA evolving constantly. We see it addressing the needs of the users, with the introduction of TEDS and later on with the introduction of voice-over-TEDS, when it will bring further spectrum efficiency and capacity.
With narrowband, you cannot just put five video streams through a TEDS channel. Instead you must rely on the broadband wireless services that are available today; solutions that are basically commercial networks. They are perfect when it’s a sunny day – and for a lot of value-adding features, they are very good to have. Multi-network routers can improve them, but you can’t base your way of working on that.
The part that we are really strongly working on at TCCA is critical broadband. Critical broadband enables you to trust it. But there’s still a big question about spectrum. The technology doesn’t help if you don’t have a place in the spectrum where you can put it. So that is likely to be an issue for the next decade, dictated pretty much by how the World Radio Conference 2015 goes. So let’s everyone do our job and get more spectrum for those who keep us alive.
But already today you can do a lot with critical communication, including data. We have surveillance, we have image-sharing, process control, Scada, positioning, sensoring – all taking place over TETRA. I give you an example: a truck has unfortunately blown up. It might carry a very dangerous, toxic substance. It might be causing a serious threat to the surrounding population. So we label each chemical cargo with a code – but not many human beings are able to remember every code. So let’s check that code: we have Java, we have WAP available in TETRA in a multi-vendor, interoperable way. A couple of finger-taps and you have the answer to what it is, and you know how to react.
So the future is here today. You can start living the information-centric way of working today. It’s not limited by the technology or by the spectrum, or by the environment – but it may be limited by us human beings in knowing how to use it and take it into operation.
Voice and data have become information. The technology enables, and it’s up to you and me to define what result we get out of it. It’s a way-of-working question defined by human beings – it’s not a technology question. This decade is really the decade for developing the information-centric models which are to drive the benefits.
Let’s try to distance ourselves a little from our natural way of thinking of hierarchies, the natural way that society was when we were born and went to school, and try to ask our children what they do. Look at them and see beyond our own boundary – because this is the first day of the future.
Shadows of tomorrow
I feel that we are in a situation like entering an aeroplane hangar with a torch”, says Tero Pesonen. “You know that it’s big, and you know that there is something, but you can only see as far as your torch shows. What we can do today is to look around us to see who has the strongest torch. For me, that would be the children.
“When I look at my children, their concept of thinking is different. My younger son is six. When he sees a new gadget, he starts touching the screen, and then he says it doesn’t work – because he assumes it’s a touchscreen. And I tell him, ‘This is not a touchscreen’, and he asks, ‘Why not?’ That’s the world that he is in, as a six-year-old.
“Every time we take a step, the light of the torch shows a little bit further. So we need to be very open. I really believe that we are at the edge of the next revolution. I don’t know what it is, but I’m convinced that, in 10 years time, it’s going to be amazing.
“And in public safety communication, critical communication, TETRA is going to be part of it.”
Tero Pesonen will be speaking at Critical Communications World, 21 – 24 May 2013, Pairs. To find out more, register as a congress delegate or exhibition visitor please visit http://www.criticalcommunicationsworld.com