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The Challenges of a Connected World

Professor Khalid Al Begain of the University of South Wales asks how mobile technology of the future will affect our lives

Connectivity and information access is evolving. In the space of just four decades, our needs have evolved from basic connectivity for e-mail and document sharing, to the Internet revolution and finally the introduction of social media. But where are we going next?

In parallel, mobile networking and mobile connectivity have experienced unprecedented development. From the start of mobile telephony in 1990s with the introduction of GSM (2G mobile networks) followed by data capabilities through technology enhancements including General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) in 1997 for low rate access (around 50Kbps), 3G technology in 2001, High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) in 2010 and currently Long Term Evolution Technology (LTE) (promising 50Mbps) that has been advertised as 4G mobile technology although it does not yet meet the technical specification of 4G according to the technical standards.

In the coming years, research and development will turn to 5G technologies with keywords being mobile broadband; sensors; automation; Open Data; Big Data; Information Explosion; Security and Privacy.

Mobile broadband will become the enabler for a wide range of services such as mobile TV and video sharing on the fly. LTE network deployment will reach 60% in the world in 2018, and mobile users will reach 7 billion. New technologies such as LTE Advance, Voice and Video over LTE and mobile video conferencing will become available to enable new creative services and applications.

People connectivity will be overtaken in the coming few years by sensor connectivity. It is predicted that over 50 billion sensors will be connected to the Internet in 2020 (equating to 6 devices per person) creating what is called “The Internet of Things” and paving the way for the realisation of  Smart Cities and Smart Communities.  Ambient sensing and automation will become global phenomena.

As a result, according to Cisco, it is predicted that

  • The data traffic will grow 12 fold between 2013 and 2018.
  • By 2016 3 zettabytes of data will whiz around the world’s wires (372 exabytes in 2011).
  • Video downloads are expected to increase five-fold between 2013 and 2016.
  • Digital television uptake will surge from 694 million subscribers last year to 3 billion in 2016.
  • Peer-to-peer traffic volumes will rise, from 4.6 exabytes a month to 10 exabytes by 2016.


Storing and making sense of this data will create new challenges. This has evolved into the new concept of “Big Data”: datasets so large that it is difficult to capture, store, manage, share, analyze and visualize with typical software tools.

Knowledge extraction will be the next revolution namely the “Knowledge Revolution” but it won’t be straightforward. The collected data is incomplete and as such it may provide intuitive knowledge in contrast to traditional algorithms as not everything can be abstracted into data for computers to act upon. In the future, service delivery will be based on massive abstractions and virtualization technologies.  In addition, this “Big Data” will not be “Open Data”. It can be owned by many different authorities and organisations.

A large portion of this data will be personal which raises questions regarding privacy and security. Who can store personal data and in what format? How can we ensure it is securely stored and shared? How can we make sense of data without violating personal freedom? How can we stop malicious and criminal use? These are questions that will have to be considered together with the technological research and development.

On a final note, cyber security will be important in the design of any future system. Innovation and creativity will become one of the most important Intellectual Property assets targeted by criminals. One major UK company hosting significant government and other data have to deal with over 80 million individual security attacks per day. This is an example of the growing challenges we will face in the future.