Wireless technologies have a critical role to play in making a positive change to peoples’ lives and helping to address societal and global challenges, according to leading industry experts, academics and humanitarian and international development specialists speaking at this week’s 2014 Future of Wireless International Conference in Cambridge, organised by Cambridge Wireless (CW) in partnership with UKTI.
The two-day conference attracted over 400 senior delegates from around the world to debate a wide range of topics from economic development and improving literacy and health, to ensuring public safety, supporting sustainability of the earth’s resources and cultivating entrepreneurship.
Dr Sally Uren, chief executive at Forum for the Future (pictured below), kicked off her keynote with the incredible statistic that out that of a global population of around 7 billion people, 6 billion have mobile phones, while only 4.5 billion have access to sanitation.
“Digital technologies have shown time and time again that they have the potential to disrupt established systems and hasten the transition to a positive and sustainable future,” said Dr Uren. However, too many technology solutions ignore the gap between technology and the human user and failure to bridge this gap nullifies the success of the entire venture.”
Connectivity is now seen as a fundamental human right by many and while people used to fear technology, they now they demand it, said Carolina Costa, managing director at Orange Innovation UK: “The digital and ever more interconnected world is about to break out from behind our screens and become the air around us. It will change the way we act and interact with the 'real' world around us.”
Caroline Costa, MD Orange Innovation UK and Daniel Gurrola, VP, Business Vision, Orange (pictured below), looked at some of the global forces that will shape our future and suggested that the digital and physical worlds will be more and more connected over the next 20 years. We will have sensors in our bodies; perhaps even implanted calling mechanism implanted. The psychological acceptance for this will be driven by healthcare, when a body full of sensors will be the norm.
The pair suggested that connectivity is a human right, but asked whether there a danger of un-evolvement of humans if we rely too heavily on technology. However, their view was that won’t happen as we’ll just concentrate on the areas that matter most.
They felt that demographics will play a major part in shaping wireless, as we “break out from behind our screens and become the air around us”. The online is as much the real world as the ‘real offline world’ to the business leaders of tomorrow – the millennials, as they dubbed them. “Millennials are much more trusting of technology , things like online payments, as they are the first generation to know only mobile phones.”
Costa and Currola also pointed out that by 2034, the only life the leaders of our businesses, governments and societies will have known is one immersed in tech. “We need to think about how demographics are evolving and how digital technology fits into this.”
They suggested they Western world in particularly, with its declining birth rates and ageing non-working population, will need to reconsider its current attitudes to keeping immigrants out. We also need to be careful of what happens to natural resources, as we are living beyond our means.
“Technology can help, but some things are irreversible and the millennials will have to face this. Just think of all the electricity needed to run all our data centres. This is going to be a fundamental for us; we need power for all our data, but it will come at a high price. We need a renewable global grid and we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels and look at alternatives.”
Summing up Costa and Guerrola said that technology will radically alter our world, but the fundamentals of humanity will not change. We need a more ethical stance: in a world where everything is possible, where do you draw the line on privacy issues, identity issues, governance – new ways are needed to govern this digital world.
Orange – moving out of just telecoms: innovation won’t be restricted to telecoms – joining with other verticals for innovations.
Prof. Simon Saunders, co-founder of Real Wireless and founding chairman of the Small Cell Forum (pictured below), spoke about the impact wireless communications and inequality of service. “Phones and smartphones can have dramatic effects on GDP and on quality of life - a GSMA report by Deloitte found that just a 10 per cent rise from 2G to 3G penetration increases GDP per capita growth by 0.15 percentage points,” said Prof Saunders.
“The cost of providing coverage to 500 million people in remote areas can be reduced to affordable levels by using repurposed metrocell style technology, resulting in potential savings per person of around 50% over macrocell based approaches.”
At the Conference, Real Wireless unveiled its new ‘Real Wireless – Wireless for Good’ initiative, offering both funding and pro bono assistance, with Télécoms Sans Frontières as the first beneficiary. For more on this see separate story here.
Representatives from some of the biggest wireless technology providers were optimistic about what can be achieved. Dr Finbarr Moynihan, general manager - Corporate Sales (Intl.) at MediaTek talked about the company’s vision to deliver technology that enhances and enriches lives in the most inclusive manner possible.
“We see significant opportunity for wireless technology to transform areas such as education, health, computing and entertainment. We call this idea ‘Everyday Genius’ and everything we do is dedicated to making it happen.”
The conference culminated with the Cambridge debate: “This house believes that emerging economies need technology transfer, not first-world products”. Chaired by Peter Day, business correspondent for BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service, the motion was supported by Prof H Nwana, director/CEO, Atlantic Telecoms and Media and opposed by Prof Jaideep Prabhu, director of the Centre for India and Global Business, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. After some passionate speeches and debate, the motion was passed with a significant majority.
“Wireless technology has arguably had more impact on the world than any other human invention in such a short space of time,” said David Cleevely CBE, Chair of CW. “But the overriding message from the conference is that there is still a lot more we can do, to harness a new generation of ‘connected citizens’ and create opportunities for millions more individuals, societies and businesses.”
Other speakers at the CW conference included, Angela Baker, senior manager, Qualcomm Wireless Reach; Steve Jones, chair of trustees at the Humanitarian Centre and Pete Hutton, EVP and President of Product Groups at ARM.
See also: Internet can empower women and eradicate inequalities says Cherie Blair