Technology Time Machine 2012: Networks in 2020 Will Be "Cloudier"

Only a couple decades ago we were happy just to be able to make a cellular phone call; today many of us can’t wait to install the next new, wacky application on our smartphone or iPad.

Add to that billions of sensors, new kinds of wirelessly connected gadgets, and the growing hunger for advanced apps— some of them bandwidth guzzlers, others low-latency tree-huggers—. Then mix in rising demand for “mobile clouds” on top of that. And what you’ve got are some huge networks challenges.

If the line-up of experts in the “Networks Supporting Future Applications” panel at the IEEE Technology Time Machine Symposium here in Dresden agreed on anything, it’s that, particularly in the wireless space, bandwidth pipes need to be bigger, speeds faster, latency lower, networks smarter – and especially “cloudier.”

“Today’s clouds are very centralized, which doesn’t work for quick response times,” says Markus Hofmann, head of Bell Labs Research Alcatel-Lucent. “We need a larger number of smaller data centers.” Hofmann also hinted at “cloudifying the wireless access infrastructure” by decoupling some elements that have up-to-now been bundled together—splitting functionality to give networks greater flexibility. Hoffman also wants a standard for an open interface between networks and applications, which would help speed along peer-to-peer traffic, in particular. Alcatel-Lucent is a member of a group pushing for an application-layer traffic optimization (ALTO) standard.

If wireless networks are pretty full right now, they could be bursting at the seams and devouring energy by the end of the next decade, unless there are significant changes to their designs and to those of the apps running over them , according to Lauri Oksanen, head of research and technology at Nokia-Siemens. The networks, he says, will need to handle up to 1000 times as much traffic and billions of connected devices, enable 1 giga-bit-per-second peak speeds and millisecond latency, and use far less energy to boot. Yet his optimistic projection by 2020:

“1 gigabyte of personalized data, per day, per user for less than $1 per day.”

And there’s more to look forward to. Gerhard Fettweis, Vodafone Chair Professor at the Dresden Technical University spoke of mobile “app-apps,” or applications that run on top of other applications, such as a weather app that pools the information of several others.

Not to put a damper on what we might call “The Brave New World of Mobile,” but privacy will remain a prickly issue, the panelists agreed. Smarter networks and applications mean more data about users will be collected and crunched.  

“A lot of companies want to push the envelope on privacy,” concedes Bell Labs' Hofmann. “Consumers need to be aware of this. The question is: Are they willing to pay for privacy? Technology is there to protect it.”

 

Photo: Brian Garrett

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