This article originally appeared in Telecom Ramblings
Connectivity has played a critical role during the pandemic. Carriers across the globe have done an amazing job not only keeping us connected but delivering the resilience and quality of service we need to work, educate, shop, and stay in touch with each other from home during the pandemic. But in many homes, it has not been possible to do all those things at once.
According to our recent research, more than 60% of consumers have encountered internet issues during the pandemic. More than half of these consumers claim to be in suburban areas that many assume have consistent, reliable connectivity. I lost count of how many times I asked my kids to “stop streaming” while I had a video conference, or I turned off my camera hoping that the slides I’m sharing and audio would better stay in sync.
So what will happen as services become increasingly more sophisticated? When our video conference becomes holographic, video appointments with the doctor become remote diagnostics, or our kids move from online learning to AR/VR learning? Will our connections suffice?
Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested globally to give us more and better connectivity. 5G networks, low-earth-orbit satellite networks, fiber networks, private enterprise networks – and there are some interesting plays in piggybacking off neighborhood connectivity, too. But it remains to be seen if this investment will create a bigger and better connection in our homes or force us to use different avenues for different things. Can our future digital society truly function without seamless handoffs between these various networks?
A new kind of connectivity landscape
As we continue to move towards a society where we need a constant internet connection to function, there’s a lot to gain by playing nice in the sandbox with other networks to ensure consistent access for consumers. Instead of choosing a single provider, I envision a world where consumers will automatically be connected to the best network for whatever task they are trying to do, regardless of who owns it. And it won’t simply be one provider that can do it all alone.
Automation, intelligence, and experience become a vital piece of the puzzle here. There is an opportunity to not only build networks, but develop an openness that enables service to be seamlessly delivered across owned and other networks. Mobile roaming and global WiFi passes are simple examples of this working today.
What we might see next
I think it is unlikely that every connection will deliver the right experience for every service. Instead, networks may be built and programmed to be ‘the connection’ for specific services or experiences.
For instance, my smart meter will have a low-data, low-handshake connection to preserve its battery life. My kid’s AR/VR headsets will have a high bandwidth, low latency, private and secure connection to their school network. My work laptop will have a secure connection to a cloud edge where my work applications sit.
Then there are use cases in which one device may need to use different connections at different times. For example, an autonomous car may use a low-earth-orbit satellite network when it’s in a rural area, seamlessly use a 5G network when it is a dense location, or a fiber network when it arrives back home. Plug it in, and it recharges and seamlessly downloads all its data from the day.
Does this mean I will need to order and pay for many different connections? And how will I know which connection is best for which service? It’s hard enough to select a mobile and broadband provider today. As a result, we might start to see embedded access, where a device comes with in-built connectivity, and the cost of that is in-built to my monthly device or app subscription fee.
There is a lot to be done before entering a digital society that’s seamlessly connected without a second thought. But now is the time to start thinking beyond the traditional way of doing things and asking some potentially uncomfortable questions. Soon enough, demands will become too great for anyone to solve them independently. Setting the right strategy now will ensure you’re not left behind.