THE NEXT GENERATION OF CONNECTIVITY: 4 FUTURE TRENDS IN TELECOMMUNICATIONS
A look at what's coming next to change how we communicate.
By: Sharon Mazzaro, Global Marketing Director, and Mike Gedeon, Customer Technical Services Manager
Long-distance communication has come a long way in a short time, and it’s poised to go even further as the world’s growing need for fast, reliable connections spurs advancements in technology. Today, most people are in range of a wireless network which they can use to do almost anything - instantly. To support this interconnectivity, new innovations are emerging at a rapid rate. In this blog, we’ll explore trends and developments already transforming how we connect and communicate.
5G, the fifth-generation technology standard for wireless communication networks, caused a stir when it deployed in 2019, but 6G is already in production with a planned deployment of 2028. 5G connectivity is currently enabling and fueling growth in mobile communications, data computing, autonomous/connected vehicles, the internet of things (IoT) and smart industry. Mobile network data traffic grew 40% from 2021 to 2022, reaching 118 EB (exabytes = 1 billion gigabytes) per month. This is made possible with technology like small cells used for hyper-local coverage and increased signal strength, in addition to the traditional, large antennas.
A network of governments, industry leaders, telecommunications providers and manufacturers are hard at work creating the technology that will be the new 6G network. As well as being a faster broadband cellular network, 6G is expected to be more diverse in what applications it can support. More AI, better interconnectedness with IoT and enhanced entertainment usage are just some of the aspects of modern life that will be enhanced with 6G.
As more data is created and shared digitally, the demand for large datacenters to store it keeps growing. Across all regions, content providers added datacenter capacity at a 51% growth rate between 2017 and 2021. Meta, Microsoft, Google and Amazon have deployed 17 new data centers globally, and growth is expected to accelerate in the near term with at least 50 more proprietary sites in the immediate pipeline. AI, virtual reality, streaming and self-driving cars are frequently cited as emerging applications that will drive demand.
Servers in datacenters generate a tremendous amount of heat and use an immense amount of power, concerns which have recently begun to cause delays in the creation of new facilities. With existing datacenters close to capacity, it is becoming increasingly important to focus on efficiency and sustainability. One way to accomplish this is to become more self-contained. Some locations are looking into on-site power generation such as Microsoft’s planned gas-fired power plant for a new facility in Ireland.
Another option is the use of newer and more advanced materials when building the servers themselves. For example, heat sinks and heat spreaders are used to dissipate heat in place of resource-heavy water cooling, especially in geographical areas where water is limited. Making those components out of a material like copper beryllium that has a high conductivity minimizes the heat generated when signals pass from card to card. This reduces heat pollution and improves operating effectiveness.
Undersea Fiberoptic Lines
Fiberoptic cables that join communications hubs from one side of the ocean to the other allow for multiple high-speed data transmissions to be made simultaneously over long distances. Submarine networks carry more than 95% of global internet traffic. As of early 2023, there are nearly 1.4 million kilometers of submarine cables in service worldwide.
Despite improved capability, the increase in data transfers mean more lines are needed. Between 2022 and 2024, $10 billion worth of new cables are expected to enter service. Some of these will be shorter, lower-latency cables providing alternate routes from Asia to Europe.
However, even the best fiberoptic lines will experience some degradation of the signals over distance and time. Repeaters are used to protect the sensitive optical amplification systems of the cables and are designed to withstand pressures at 8000-meter depths. Making sure these repeaters do not fail comes down to the material used to make them. With the crowding on the sea floor, the time required for new permits is getting longer – which makes it extremely important to ensure that existing cables last as long as possible.
Much of our communications, however, are supported by satellites. The use of satellites developed because the high frequency radio waves used for telecommunications links travel by line of sight and are impacted by the Earth’s curvature. Satellites relay signals around that curve to allow for widespread connection either by reflecting the signals or amplifying them. Once reserved for government and military use, since the first satellite was put into orbit in 1957 there are now almost 8,000 active satellites orbiting Earth. They transmit signals used for television, phone, radio, internet and other applications in science, military and technology. Reliable, widespread coverage that reaches even remote areas can’t be provided by terrestrial systems.
The commercialization of space has led to a rapid increase in the number of satellites in orbit, thanks in part to the use of reusable rockets. In 2022 alone 2,000 satellites were launched.
More satellites in the sky leads to concerns about how to service the units and clean up any debris, especially because more units are being set at low earth orbit just 100-200 miles above Earth’s surface. AI and improved propulsion technology can help maneuver new units around obstacles, and new satellites have been engineered with the ability to clean up debris. To remove the unneeded parts, self-detonating to burn up in the atmosphere has been effective. However, the crowding and environmental impacts are not ideal, so there is increased focus on improving the durability, longevity and capacity of each satellite. They must be made of materials that will stand up to the extreme conditions in space for a long time, all while maintaining peak performance.
The future of telecommunications promises faster, improved connections and support for new innovations. However, these rapid advancements will also bring challenges around security, access and supply chain that must be addressed. With guidance, advances in telecommunications can responsibly bring humanity closer together than ever before.