“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed”, William Gibson famously said. But, with 20 billion connected devices and 6.5 billion network users by 2020, Gibson’s optimism might be misplaced. Indeed, according to Ericsson CTO, Ulf Ewaldsson, the future – at least, our connected, mobile future – might not happen at all. And as the chief technology officer of the most global of networking infrastructure providers, Ewaldsson is as well placed as anyone to peer into our collective digital crystal ball.
The problem, Ewaldsson says, there will be a thousand fold increase in mobile traffic over the next five years and today’s 4G networks aren’t sufficiently muscular to handle this explosion in bandwidth demand. Spectrum, he predicts, will be “more scarce than oil in the 21st century”. And so it’s “very, very important,” Ewaldsson insists, to undertake what he calls a “global alignment” on spectrum policy to ensure that the new demands on the network – from self driving cars to wearable intelligent devices – can be guaranteed as we eventually shift from a 4G to a 5G world.
That’s the bad news. The good news, Ewaldsson says, is that a lot of people – including Ericsson themselves – are working on making sure that our connected future actually happens. Indeed, the Swedish networking company invests $5 billion a year in R&D and is particularly interested in startups in the energy, healthcare, education and transportation sectors.