Perspectives on the Next Decade: Wireless and wired communications, computing converge

Perspectives on the Next Decade: Wireless and wired communications, computing converge

Three once-independent communications technologies are converging into a single Internet-based industry, driving the "mobile Internet."

At the dawn of a new decade, Rutgers Today challenged university scholars across half a dozen disciplines  – economics, American studies, history, political science, law, science, and sociology  to predict what the next few years hold in store. Based on the opening years of the new millennium, we asked, what trends do you see evolving, and what might life look like when this newly hatched decade draws to a close? In this article, we interview Dipankar Raychaudhuri of Rutgers’ Wireless Information Networking Laboratory (WINLAB).

Dipankar Raychaudhuri, WINLAB director
By the year 2000, the Internet had become a household fixture as people discovered all the information, entertainment, products and services it put at their fingertips.

Web surfing a decade ago, however, seems primitive by today’s standards. Screeching 56 kilobit-per-second modems tethered to telephone jacks was state-of-the-art. Now we have blazingly fast cable and fiber connections, while Wi-Fi technology, cellular data, and smart phones give us internet access on-the-go.

“Things are changing very fast – faster than we thought would be possible five years ago,” said Dipankar Raychaudhuri, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of Rutgers’ Wireless Information Networking Laboratory (WINLAB).

The big change, he said, is that three once-independent communications technologies are converging.

“Until a few years ago, there were cellular phones, wired phones, and the Internet,” said Raychaudhuri. “These three systems were designed, built and operated by different industries. Now they are converging into a single Internet-based industry.”

Just as cellular phones now carry internet traffic, the Internet is carrying voice traffic through services such as Skype. Even ordinary phone users have their conversations carried through the network over internet links.

In the next decade, we’ll see more location awareness in the mobile Internet, said Raychaudhuri. A web search will identify merchants near you, and the web will map driving routes or public transportation choices without you having to first tell it exactly where you are.

Sensors that are able to communicate and machine-to-machine communications will also emerge in the coming decade. These could include portable devices that monitor your health and are in constant touch with the hospital, or cars that alert other cars to upcoming congestion and send split-second commands to each other to avert collisions.

“In Japan, the cellular company NTT DoCoMo has dubbed this ‘the social brain,’” said Raychaudhuri. “You interact with and control your physical world.”

The benefits? For the individual, there’s convenience, safety and companionship. For society, there’s productivity and efficiency.

The downside? “With all this data being generated about our movement, there is a concern about privacy,” acknowledged Raychaudhuri. But developers are working on how to anonymize data to protect individuals from being tracked.

WINLAB is playing a major role in developing these new technologies, standards and protocols for the mobile internet era, he said, as well as addressing the very real privacy and security concerns. Facilities such as its National Science Foundation-funded ORBIT lab help researchers throughout the industry test new ideas.

WINLAB recently celebrated its 20th anniversary by looking back at how the cellular communications evolved, but it is looking forward even more eagerly at what the mobile Internet will be by 2020.

Media Contact: Carl Blesch
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