Communication Infrastructure

This year, I’ve got a bunch of creativity cards as a Christmas present. The envelope literally says “one always has to do what one is not able to help doing” (man muss immer tun, was man nicht lassen kann). After having noted “Blog erstellen” on the To Do chit, I’ve been sitting in front of my notebook and writing these lines.

Electricity, information theory and semiconductors
It was thousands of years ago when human mankind used bonfires and drums for signalling and sending messages to each other. The higher speed of new communication methods caused information asymmetry which again led to a strategic advantage over the opponent and was therefore crucial to win wars. For example, from the 17th until 19th century, the French introduced fast relay stations based on visible light communication that were mounted on top of buildings and allowed messages to be transmitted over dozens of kilometers in just a few minutes.

Only in 1833 did engineers develop a fully electromechanical-based system to send information over copper wires – the telegraph. This game-changing invention was of utmost meaning for human mankind. The previously understanding of time and space has been reshaped forever. It has become possible to transmit messages over far distances in short times. Just compare a horseman carrying a letter and the speed of light. With Shannon’s mathematical theory of communication in 1948 one was finally able to define upper limits for error-free information transmission. His theoretical conception however doesn’t tell how to approach its limits. The development of the transistor in 1957 served as basis for later digital signal processors that ultimately made it possible to convert Shannon’s theory into praxis. Without the basic technologies electricity, information theory and semiconductors, there wouldn’t be a way to construct modern communication systems like your smart phone or mobile base stations.

Controlling complexity
We write the year 2013 and are surrounded not just by the obvious telephone lines, but also backhauled mobile base stations, virtualized datacenters, communication satellites, street level mobile base stations, broadcast stations, emergency radios, RFIDs, home WLAN and many more. What is distinctive to the ancient communication age is the fact that networks have become much more critical for everybody’s everyday life and they also have become increasingly complex in the order of magnitudes. Therefore it is not just about to connect a transmitter and a receiver; we have to talk about techniques like convergence of fixed and wireless broadband access, distributed antenna systems, heterogeneous networks, macro and small cell backhaul, service provider WiFi, visible light communication, THz communication, machine-to-machine communication, and several more. Additionally there are complex non-technical issues to tackle like fail-safe concerns, the impact from GDP on infrastructure spendings, organisational change management in telco businesses, e-smog, political decisions impacting infrastructure advancements, big data, decisive networks, internet of things and its new biz models, big brother and its new ethic awareness, new social behaviour.

Key findings
Communication infrastructure has never been nice-to-have but a necessity. Today communication infrastructure is absolutely business critical. The future global network – or internet of things – will become a highly complex neural network which requires preceding research. Governments should therefore never stop investing into advanced infrastructure solutions – in the long run it’s less expensive to spend at once than going for short leaps. Given the continuous price decline per transmitted bit (yes, bits can be considered as a currency) and the fading business cases, it becomes obvious that governments, network operators, service providers and private investors need to group together in order to realize infrastructure investments so that no stakeholder suffers from a 12 year ROI of Fiber to the home (FTTH). Speaking of which, FTTH is still growing slowly in europe, so expect my next post to be about fixed broadband.

Have a great day and do what you’re not able to help doing!


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About dominikschweizer

Dominik Schweizer is a Swiss-educated Diploma Engineer and also holds an Executive MBA from St. Gallen University. He held several lead engineering positions in the producing and service industry.

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