Communications key topics

Addressing key topics within the communications sector.

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The key trends in communications can be observed across multiple levels: techniques, components, networks, services, applications, and content.  At the lower levels innovation brings greater efficiency and lower costs, while at the higher levels it is focussed on revenue growth.  

Communications is not on its own a major component of a country’s GDP, but in an increasingly knowledge based economy, it is has a large multiplier effect across business and society, much of which is intangible, or unmeasured, but central to business competitiveness and social cohesion. While communications has been undergoing a revolution in virtually every age, the current pace of change creates challenges for the industry and policy makers.

The major opportunities and challenges facing the sector are:

  • The huge opportunities that flow from the underlying technologies that continue to exhibit rapidly increasing performance and lowering costs.
  • The transition from switched networks to all-Internet Protocol (IP) networks (Next Generation Networks) will make great demands on investment and require the re-engineering of many services.
  • Increasing the speed of access, together with the speed of data input and retrieval.  Many see an all-fibre access network as the correct and inevitable goal.  Others think the modern generation of Digital Subscriber Line technology will suffice for some years (ADSL2, VDSL).  In some geographies, radio based delivery is more economic.
  • The increasing convergence and bundling of services, which is causing a breakdown of traditional markets (fixed, mobile, ISP, Broadcast) and the emergence of strong competition between multi-play ‘platforms’.
  • The wish that services should be ‘anytime, anywhere’, capable of working seamlessly across differing technologies and platforms, both local and wide-area.
  • Driving a greater business take-up of web-based services and adapting to the opportunities presented by new types of web technology (Web 2.0, Semantic Web).  The huge opportunities in the health and transport sectors require an inter-disciplinary approach.
  • The continuing tensions in ICT flowing from the different cultural origins of its main players: the ‘Telcos’, the Internet, the Broadcasters and the IT industry; leading to differing opinions over the focus for policies on governance, competition and regulation.
  • The globalised nature of the industry, where proprietary interests compete with industry standards and where those standards are more likely to emerge from equipment vendors than service providers. Counter influences, such as open source software, are having a measurable impact.
  • Better exploitation of radio frequency spectrum through digital techniques; better sharing of spectrum (‘spectrum commons’ and more intelligent self-adapting systems); releasing military spectrum for civil use; and introducing a market based approach to spectrum allocation, including auctions and secondary trading.
  • Addressing public concerns about unproven harmful effects due to low-level exposure to radio services.
  • Preventing a ‘digital divide’, nationally and globally by making access to networks and services available and affordable for all; and easy to use by all society.
  • Controlling the spread of content piracy through Digital Rights Management technology, or adopting business models that accept that this battle may be lost.
  • The need for robust, resilient communications networks as part of a critical national infrastructure.

Engineering the future of communications

Since the launch of the Lord Carter Digital Britain Report during 2009 much of the Policy Panels attention has been to respond to both the initial and follow on consultations.  These activities have been supported by short presentations at the House of Lords highlighting key trends that will shape the future;

  • Convergence & Divergence – Access from anyplace, anytime , anywhere.
  • Communicating Sensors in every object – The Rise of digital low-rate devices.
  • Green Communication – Energy issues in communication systems.
  • Where next for Digital Broadband

Follow up confidential parliamentary guidance discussions have since followed.

Data privacy & file sharing

There has been much discussion recently regarding the illegal file sharing of copyright material. Whilst the government has proposed technical measures as part of the Digital Economy Bill, the IET has advised against these measures as they will be complex and costly to implement with little chance of being effective.

The IET has also warned of the implied privacy issues that are likely to arise should some of the proposed technology be implemented.  This is an issue that the populous are yet to become aware of and will have serious implications on data privacy.

Synergy - cross sector policy

There is a great deal of synergy between the IT and the Communications sectors.  This will increase significantly as convergence and unified communications technologies gather pace and penetration blurring boundaries.

The IET is increasingly addressing this phenomenon by developing policies that result from cross cutting Policy Panel collaboration.  Typically both IT and Communications issues interlink with other sectors such as energy and transport.

A further example of cross collaboration is addressing the DECC Smart Meter initiative which involves IT, Comms, Energy, Data Security and Business transformation.

The IET has been advising on many of these issues and is keen to promote a joined up approach between the Digital Britain Initiative and Smart Meter implementation.

The IET is in a fortunate and unique position in that because of its broad based membership it can offer a holistic approach to today’s challenges and those of the future.