From Zero to 5G Our Evolv­ing Data­s­phere

Thanks to cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy, weve be­come more and more con­nected, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with one an­other via text, au­dio, im­ages, and video all while on the move. What does the next gen­er­a­tion hold?

Asian Geographic - - FEATURES - Text YD Bar-Ness

Thanks to cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy, weve be­come more and more con­nected, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with one an­other via text, au­dio, im­ages, and video all while on the move. What does the next gen­er­a­tion hold?

Our thought and emo­tions en­com­pass the Earth in an al­most-in­vis­i­ble data­s­phere. At this very mo­ment, these in­vis­i­ble thoughts pass through your body as ra­dio waves, and re­lay through ca­bles and an­ten­nae at the speed of light. Knit­ted to­gether into a com­plex net­work, the evolv­ing data­s­phere is a novel and con­tin­u­ally sur­pris­ing part of our lives. How did it come to be, and what is it chang­ing into?

As this data­s­phere im­proves over time, com­mu­ni­ca­tion spe­cial­ists have come to re­fer to the tech­ni­cal advances as new gen­er­a­tions. Were on the cusp of a new gen­er­a­tion be­ing rolled out across the world, and theres a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that these net­works will be crit­i­cal driv­ers of cul­tural and eco­nomic growth in the years to come. To un­der­stand the prom­ise and enthusiasm for the up­com­ing Fifth Gen­er­a­tion, or 5G, mo­bile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works, we need to look back and un­der­stand the very be­gin­nings of the data­s­phere.

The Zeroth Gen­er­a­tion: Early Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions

Be­fore hu­man­ity, in­for­ma­tion trav­elled in ways we can only barely imag­ine: Whales sang songs that echoed around the oceans, and plants sent pollen drift­ing on the wind. Hu­man­i­tys first long-dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tions were, of course, done by direct mes­sen­ger, or by vis­ual sig­nals such as flags, smoke, or mir­rors. These were lim­ited by the abil­ity of the courier to travel at speed, or the spans avail­able for line of sight.

When writ­ing de­vel­oped, clay, bark, or pa­per let­ters were car­ried by couri­ers, cre­at­ing a much more com­plex sys­tem than direct com­mu­ni­ca­tions. As the first writ­ers cor­re­sponded with each other, they formed an in­ter­linked net­work of hu­man minds. Three thou­sand years ago, Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties es­tab­lished a postal ser­vice a dis­tant an­ces­tor of our mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works.

For five thou­sand years, pa­per let­ters were the only method of true long-dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The postal ser­vices de­pended on sail, horse, and foot un­til the adop­tion of pow­ered mar­itime travel and rail­ways in the 1800s. These dra­mat­i­cally sped up the trans­mis­sion of in­for­ma­tion, but then, sud­denly, postal ser­vices were out­raced by new tech­nolo­gies op­er­at­ing at the speed of light.

At the Speed of Light

The first in­stan­ta­neous telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions came as elec­tri­cal im­pulses sparked along a wire. The first tele­graph to trans­mit coded writ­ing was de­vel­oped in 1828 and re­quired trained op­er­a­tors to de­code sim­ple pulsed sig­nals. They also had the ad­di­tional de­mand of re­quir­ing a strong wire to be placed be­tween two points.

Asias first tele­graphs were colo­nial in na­ture. The first lines were built by the Bri­tish in In­dia in 1851, and within five years a net­work of al­most 50 sta­tions stretched over 7,000 kilo­me­tres. In the French colonies of South­east Asia, the first wires were stretched in 1861.

The most im­por­tant trans­mis­sions were no longer the sound of an­other hu­mans voice, but the en­coded chat­ter of in­for­ma­tion bits be­tween com­put­ers.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished teleg­ra­phy as a na­tional project in 1881, ini­tially ex­pend­ing great ef­fort to up­skill do­mes­ti­cally in­stead of al­low­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally-owned net­works. By the start of the 20th cen­tury, how­ever, for­eign-owned tele­graph net­works had ar­rived in China.

Japan em­braced teleg­ra­phy en­thu­si­as­ti­cally in 1869. By 1891, the en­tire land mass of the Asian su­per­con­ti­nent was spanned by a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work. Peo­ple on the Pa­cific Coast could now com­mu­ni­cate in­stan­ta­neously with the At­lantic Coast 10,000 kilo­me­tres away.

Span­ning Oceans

The first ef­forts at un­der­sea tele­graph ca­bles were con­ducted be­tween France and Eng­land in 1850, and in 1858 a transat­lantic ca­ble be­tween Eng­land and the USA was es­tab­lished. The In­dian tele­graph net­work was linked to the Bri­tish net­work un­der the Ara­bian and Mediter­ranean wa­ters in 1870, and then through Singapore to­wards Aus­tralia by 1872.

Tele­graph wires criss­crossed the long­est di­men­sions of land and sea over the re­main­der of the cen­tury. North Amer­i­cas coast­lines were linked in 1861, South Africa was con­nected to Eng­land in 1879, and by 1890, South Amer­ica had lines con­nect­ing di­rectly to North Amer­ica. The tele­graph data­s­phere had evolved be­yond the postal net­work to cover the planet.

At around this same time, devel­op­ment of elec­tri­cal tele­phony meant that a net­work of wires could trans­mit the hu­man voice. Both words and sound could be sent vast dis­tances at unimag­in­able speeds. Hu­man­ity had built the first global telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work, but in a few short years it would be on the road to ob­so­les­cence.

Be­yond the Wires

An­other tech­nol­ogy emerged herald­ing vast changes the wire­less ra­dio. In the mid1890s, the work of Ital­ian elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer Guglielmo Mar­coni on wire­less teleg­ra­phy rev­o­lu­tionised our telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work. By 1901, he had demon­strated in­stan­ta­neous wire­less ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion across the At­lantic Ocean, send­ing in­vis­i­ble sig­nals along dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies of elec­tro­mag­netic ra­di­a­tion. By the 1920s, ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion was part of ocean travel, news broad­cast­ing, and pub­lic en­ter­tain­ment. The ra­dio telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work de­pends on a se­ries of an­ten­nae placed strate­gi­cally across the land­scape, of­ten on an ac­ces­si­ble high point.

With the launch of Sputnik, the first satel­lite, from the Kazakh re­gion in 1957, the net­work be­gan to in­clude an­ten­nae or­bit­ing the Earth. In 1959, Amer­i­can sci­en­tists suc­cess­fully demon­strated the use of the Moon as a ra­dio wave re­flec­tor, but this tech­nique was soon aban­doned for closer ar­ti­fi­cial satel­lites. Less than 70 years later, there are now more than two thou­sand com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lite or­bit­ing our planet.

In com­bi­na­tion with the wired net­work, voice com­mu­ni­ca­tions were made more and more avail­able across the globe. But at the start of the new mil­len­nium, an­other great shift oc­curred. The most im­por­tant trans­mis­sions were no longer the sound of an­other hu­mans voice, but the en­coded chat­ter of in­for­ma­tion bits be­tween com­put­ers.

From Ana­log Waves to Dig­i­tal Bits The First Gen­er­a­tion of wire­less phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy was based on the math­e­mat­ics of ana­log physics. 1G trans­mit­ters mod­i­fied their fre­quency or their strength to send a sig­nal. Sim­i­lar to how tonal lan­guage can con­vey in­for­ma­tion like the speak­ers vo­cal pitch changes, a ra­dio or mo­bile tele­phone sig­nal can change its fre­quency in a way that can be in­ter­preted by the lis­tener. Spe­cial com­po­nents known as modems al­lowed com­put­ers to en­code in­for­ma­tion into audi­ble noise and send it along the phone net­work.

These First Gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies were di­rectly de­scended from the first in­ven­tors

ex­per­i­ments with ra­dio trans­mis­sions and phono­graph record­ings. The in­for­ma­tion car­ried by the net­work wasnt based on com­pli­cated en­cod­ings, but rather was based on changes in the wave­lengths of elec­tro­mag­netic physics. This tech­nol­ogy is still widely used ev­ery­where around us broad­cast ra­dio sta­tions still trans­mit a song or a news story by mod­i­fy­ing the am­pli­tude or the fre­quency of their sig­nals. By hav­ing a cor­rectly tuned ra­dio set, you can hear those changes as faith­fully re­pro­duced sounds.

The Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion (2G) net­works use dig­i­tal en­cod­ing. In­for­ma­tion is con­verted by a com­puter into a long se­quence of bits, on-off sig­nals that are then re-en­coded into sound, text, im­ages, or any other data. Con­cep­tu­ally, dig­i­tal net­works are sim­i­lar to the pulses of tele­graph lines.

2G net­works al­lowed for smart­phones to con­nect in a purely dig­i­tal way. This of­fers sev­eral ad­van­tages, since mo­bile de­vices now speak the same lan­guage as fixed com­put­ers: in­for­ma­tion can flow faster, can be en­crypted, and uses less en­ergy. They are still in use around the world, but are be­ing phased out in favour of next-gen­er­a­tion sys­tems.

The 3G net­works were un­der devel­op­ment in 1998, and they trans­mit in­for­ma­tion as pack­ets of bits. These can be sent in any or­der or re­peated for ac­cu­racy, and the re­ceiv­ing com­puter re­orders them into a leg­i­ble for­mat. A 3G net­work can send about two mil­lion bits of

in­for­ma­tion within a sec­ond. At this speed, a very high qual­ity pho­to­graph would take about 20 sec­onds to load.

In the present day, newer net­works are be­ing built with Fourth Gen­er­a­tion, or 4G, tech­nolo­gies, bring­ing a me­te­oric in­crease in speeds. That same im­age now takes only two sec­onds to trans­mit. 4G net­works are of­ten first built in the ma­jor cities and then sub­se­quently in sur­round­ing re­gions. 4G net­works are best-de­vel­oped in South Korea and Singapore, fol­lowed by Aus­tralia and Hun­gary. In re­cent years, the 4G net­works have im­proved dra­mat­i­cally within In­dia, Viet­nam, and In­done­sia.

At first, few peo­ple could imag­ine the uses that peo­ple would have for this speed, but then amaz­ing new us­ages sprouted forth: smart homes, three-di­men­sional vir­tual re­al­ity cam­eras, live stream­ing video, au­tonomous vehicles and re­mote cloud-based com­put­ing. All of these tech­nolo­gies have been un­locked by faster con­nec­tiv­ity, and who knows what the next gen­er­a­tion will bring?

A Fifth Gen­er­a­tion Data­s­phere

The most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber about

5G net­works is that they dont ex­ist yet. Even so, plan­ning for the next phase of mo­bile In­ter­net has been recog­nised as a crit­i­cal pri­or­ity by gov­ern­ments world­wide. While the 5G net­work will in­clude much of the phys­i­cal an­ten­nae and

ca­bling of the pre­vi­ous net­works, it will need new com­po­nents to process and trans­mit the sig­nals. It will also need more-ad­vanced hand­sets, since most mo­bile phones cur­rently cant han­dle 5G trans­mis­sions. Ma­jor tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are lin­ing up to build these so­phis­ti­cated new elec­tron­ics, in a sit­u­a­tion rem­i­nis­cent of the ex­pan­sion of the rail­way net­work.

With many bil­lions or even tril­lions of In­ter­net-con­nected de­vices ex­pected to be cre­ated in the 21st cen­tury, the new net­works will play a large part in shap­ing the world to come.

Within Asia, as of late Fe­bru­ary 2019, 5G mo­bile net­works are avail­able for lim­ited pub­lic test­ing or commercial uses in the cities of Hong Kong, Seoul, Jakarta, Is­tan­bul, St. Peters­burg and in Phillip­ines, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emi­rates.

5G net­works are on track to be rolled out to the gen­eral pub­lic in Eastern Aus­trala­sia in mid-2019, with China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Aus­tralia on the fore­front. Singapore, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE are spe­cial cases be­cause they cover such a small area of land, they can up­grade their en­tire net­work far faster than a large coun­try. By the time this ar­ti­cle is pub­lished, new 5G projects will be an­nounced by gov­ern­ments and busi­nesses around the world.

What makes it so ex­cit­ing is, like the ar­rival of 3G or teleg­ra­phy, we can only just barely imag­ine what 5G net­works will trans­form. Postal sys­tems, tele­graphs, tele­phones and mo­bile phone an­ten­nae have all quickly trig­gered vast so­ci­etal and in­ter­na­tional changes. And once we have ad­justed to these chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties, will we be ready for 6G? ag

YD Bar-Ness is a con­ser­va­tion ecologist based in Fre­man­tle, Western Aus­tralia. As a sci­en­tist, he spe­cialises in climb­ing trees to ex­plore the canopy bio­di­ver­sity and as a con­ser­va­tion­ist, he seeks to use ge­og­ra­phy and photograph­y to cre­ate en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion ma­te­ri­als. www.out­reache­col­ogy.com

While the 5G net­work will in­clude much of the phys­i­cal an­ten­nae and ca­bling of the pre­vi­ous net­works, it will need new com­po­nents to process and trans­mit the sig­nals.

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