In 10 years time you and I may be trying to watch silly cute cat videos in 4K, 8K or even 16K resolution, but cellular mobile networking will be as much a big-data problem as a bandwidth drag race.
The systems that mobile carriers brag about now for delivering games and streaming HD media to smartphones will have to be totally re-architected in the next few years to accommodate billions of sensors, cameras and remote-control connections, according to Marcus Weldon, president of Bell Labs.
The New Jersey-based research group is part of Alcatel-Lucent, which could become part of an even larger mobile equipment vendor next year if Nokia wins approval for a takeover bid. So Weldon, who is also Alcatel's CTO, has an interest in overhauling vast networks of cells and back-end systems. But Bell Labs has been ahead of the curve a few times in its more than half century of existence, inventing the laser, the transistor and Unix, among other things. 9 tips for speeding up your business Wi-Fi What's happening in mobile now is the start of a trend as big as the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the Internet, according to Weldon. It's the instrumentation of everything:
" By 2025, we will be well on the way to measuring everything going on in the world and being able to remotely control most machines", he says.
The few sensors out there now, collecting digital security video or counting cars going over a wire on a highway, are just the beginning. "We've instrumented almost nothing in our physical world," Weldon said. Others call what's coming an acronym known as IoT or the Internet of Things. Even simple devices can tell intriguing stories, like the Jawbone UP activity trackers that gauged an early-morning earthquake by showing whether users woke up.
The concept can be extended to things like logistics, where cheap wireless devices on boxes could fill in the gaps in package tracking. Today's wireless networks won't even be able to deal with the vast number of objects that will be sending signals in 10 years, let alone the amount of data they may be transmitting, Weldon said. Mobile Virtual and Real Network Carriers will have to rebuild their entire infrastructure and systems for signaling, the procedural messages that networks and devices exchange just to make communication work.
For example, a typical cellular base station on a tower is built to handle signaling for only about 1,200 devices. That may be enough to serve all the mobile subscribers in a rural area, but after all these sensors and connected machines get installed over the next 10 years, that same cell tower might have 300,000 devices to keep tabs on, Weldon said.