The best of 2015

Here is a summary of this year’s Future of Communications content. If you find value in what I write, the best gift you can give to me in return is to ask your colleagues to sign up to my newsletter.

Voice and messaging innovation

At the beginning of 2015 I co-wrote a report (summary) based on a year-long research project on the future of voice communications. We concluded that the leading edge of tech is in engineering feeling states and ethical outcomes. Soulight: musical wellbeing software is a great (albeit non-voice) exemplar.

To get a further taste of the three questions you need to ask yourself about all future technology, check out the Hypervoice Consortium video on the future of voice.

The big upcoming trend is Contextual Communications, which is akin to a new “PC revolution”. For example, I was impressed by the work of Bruce Rasa at AgVoice, who is exploring contextual communications in agriculture. Another example of “fit-for-context” communications is Dupl: the “togetherphone”, where I also interviewed CEO Tony Kypreos and explored its wider meaning.

A leading voice innovation practitioner is Dean Elwood, CEO of Voxygen, whom I interviewed about how to create value-added voice service platforms.

My article on the crisis in UK Critical Communications got a lot of industry attention. Anyone can make things work on a ‘happy day’, but doing it safely in an emergency situation is hard.

Network performance science

Network engineering is transitioning from a skilled craft to hard science. The new science of network performance will let us get more out of the network. The current weak scientific and engineering foundations of packet networking mean that telcos face a growing complexity crisis that they need to tame.

We looked at how golf is (and isn’t) like packet data, explored under-appreciated facts about broadband and wondered why do skyscrapers stand up (when networks fall down)?

∆Q: The missing maths of multiplexing

My contribution to the public good this year has come from openly documenting a new branch of mathematics that underpins the new science of network performance.

A beginner’s guide to ∆Q is a gentle introduction for the lay reader, and if you want to dive in further I offered an overview of the history and philosophy of ∆Q from which it’s a short and painless hop to the calculus and algebra.

Most people have a severe allergy to mathematics, so why care about some obscure new development like this? Because ΔQ is the ideal network metric we’ve been looking for – and that’s a big leap in managing QoE and cost.

For the adventurous there is a ∆Q reading list.

Case studies of ∆Q in action

We explored four case studies of the ∆Q framework being applied in the real-world:

Internet history and futurology

The current Internet is just a prototype and there are (at least) ten ways it could be better. A widespread (and wrong) assumption is that the Internet is a ‘scale-free’ system. It is not, so we have to ask ourselves how far can the Internet scale?

We looked back at the Internet’s beginnings and asked if we built the ‘right’ Internet. Having been on a journey of understanding to realise we didn’t, I wrote a letter to my younger self on how to make sense of telecoms. The Internet’s future will see the introduction of ‘polyservice’ networks.

Looking far forwards, I presented a view of the business world in 2025 with a supporting library of links on a range of technology trends, together with ten tech futurism videos worth watching.

‘Net neutrality’ battles

The hot policy topic continues to be ‘net neutrality’. The landmark event for me this year was when Ofcom published a scientific report on net neutrality written by my colleagues at Predictable Network Solutions Ltd.

To the best of my knowledge this is the first time that world-class mathematicians have had their formal say on this subject area. Broadband is fundamentally a mathematical system (i.e. its defining feature is that it is stochastic), so it’s about time!

I concluded that the FCC’s “net neutrality” rules are technically unworkable and to avoid getting mired in these problems regulators must ignore ‘lawgeneers’. I also believe that the appeal against broadband reclassification should go against the FCC.

If ‘neutrality’ is an intellectual dud, it provokes the question of what else, instead? It turns out that “neutrality” is too weak to protect broadband buyers anyway, so regulators need to rethink how to measure broadband quality based on the essential science of broadband regulation (see also webinar video).

An ITU Policy Clinic Masterclass took a look beyond the narrow confines of ‘neutrality’. I undertook a general examination of the ethics of broadband.

Network economics and strategy

Packet networks open up an ‘quality arbitrage’, meaning someone could become the ‘Uber of telecoms’ by dynamically matching supply to demand. That might be a bit of a concern given that Google just nuked mobile.

Telcos are struggling to innovate due to a perception gap as to what is possible. They could re-invent their wholesale business model, for example. If they follow my homework advice they might even reach ‘telco paradise’!

For the latest fresh thinking on telecommunications, please sign up for the free Geddes newsletter.