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Telecom Review catches up with Fuad Siddiqui, Bell Labs Consulting Partner and Global Head of Business Strategy and New Markets, Nokia, to discuss the future vision as laid out in the recently published Bell Labs book titled 'Future X Network'.

What is Future X Network all about? As the first book to come out of Bell Labs, what was the inspiration behind the idea?
We are at the nexus of a human technological revolution that will be different than any prior era, as it will simultaneously be both global and local, with innovation occurring everywhere. The global-local collision of markets and technologies will make this technological revolution one of the most disruptive and far-reaching. It will make the first 'information age' driven by the creation of the internet and the web seem more like a preamble than an age in itself.

Bell Labs has been exploring limits of current technologies and architectures with a view to 2020 and beyond, creating a vision for the new digital era. Rather than keeping this vision internal to the Labs, we're sharing it with the industry at large, with the goal of fostering an informed discussion of the future network, a common understanding of its potential to transform human existence and the essential investments needed to bring it about.

What is the essential vision of the Future X Network and when can we expect the ideas discussed to take shape?
There are three key drivers behind the Future X Network vision:
- A new dynamic approach to networks that creates the sense of seemingly infinite capacity by pushing beyond current technological limits to create a new cloud-integrated network that not only provides essential input and output mechanisms, but also intelligence.
- The rise of internet-connected machines and devices that will send and receive a massive amount of new digital information, as well as reshape the manufacturing landscape with a diverse array of 3D printers - reversing the current trend in developed countries of off-shoring manufacturing to lower-cost countries.
- New data analysis techniques based on inference of needs and information. New augmented intelligence systems will use the smallest amount of digital information, derived from the massive amount of data collected, to infer what is needed in each situation and context, to assist - not replace - human intelligence.
Future X, where X characterizes this vision, denoted by multiple factors of 10 - we see this as a 10 year journey, resulting in multiples of 10 times, the scale in devices, cloud and network infrastructure. X also represents the unknown variable that characterizes the inherently variable nature of this future, which depends on successfully solving for multiple technological and economic factors.

How will the rise of smart internet-connected machines shape future societies?
The big transformation shaping the future will be led by businesses. We're going to change, connect and inter-connect things... infrastructure, shipping palettes, building, rails, transport, governments, anything that you can imagine not instrumented today is going to be connected, triggering a multitude of new use-cases and applications.

Global internet traffic today is estimated at 1 ZB; with an evolutionary view, projections show 2.5 ZB by 2020. However, considering digitization of everything, a 1.5X of evolutionary scenario emerges, fueled by IoT video, high dynamic range (video), digital objects, immersive communication and edge cloud apps.

Another way to imagine the impact is connected sensors estimated to be at around 1 billion today. Assuming 6 billion people each having hundreds of sensors providing information, a trillion sensors 'eventually' is not out of the question. This suggests a thousand- fold growth. We are nowhere. We've got all that transformation ahead of us. Digitizing and connecting our world in ways that make economic sense will be transformative for societies.

One of the drivers or 'disruptions' behind the Future X Network is intelligent cloud-integrated networks. What will this bring to societies of the future?
One of the key attributes we need to look at and has a relation to high, low bandwidth, is latency. One of the changes we're going to see because we are instrumenting machines and processes to control those machines, is we need to get to very low latency. Future, real-time services, such as augmented reality apps, operating smart highways, achieving tactile levels of remote surgery, all require a new kind of high performance, low latency network, to be able to respond dynamically to human behavior.

Let's take an example of flying drones. While military drones can be controlled from halfway around the world, interaction is possible because they have sophisticated on-board processing and are capable of flying without the need for real-time, low-latency feedback to the pilot thousands of miles away.

But, this sophistication comes with a price, which excludes this technology from use in more cost-sensitive applications that have the potential to transform enterprise or vertical industry segments. If the cost were not prohibitive, clusters of low-cost robots could be used to allow remote operators to inspect and repair critical civil infrastructure, for example, bridges, gas and water mains and sewers. This tradeoff suggests that an application in the edge cloud could provide local coordination among them and reduce the requirements for human-machine interaction.

The cloud-integrated network addresses such (near) real-time digital automation needs. It blurs the lines between application, device and network functionality by linking together device software functions with application and network functions in dynamic service chains, on demand. This is how a network of seemingly infinite capacity will be created, to optimally serve the digital needs of all people, processes and things.

With such dramatic technological advancement, what business model and competitive shifts do you envision impacting telecom service providers?
We see four key technology dimensions (connectivity, cloud, content and control) and four key market dimensions (global, local, enterprise and consumer) fuelling a new global-local duality of service providers with either global or local focus. This will inspire a form of dynamic competition and partnership models, where businesses will have to invent, re-invent and adapt as they operate and collide in the same or complimentary spaces. The competitive shifts will result in:
- A set of approximately 10 global service providers (incl. webscale companies) that offer global connectivity, cloud and contextualized control and content (C&C).
- A set of approximately 100 local cloud-integrated network providers that offer domestic, hyper-local connectivity, edge cloud and contextual C&C services.
- Formation of global-local alliance framework that connects and interworks the local and global service providers, similar to the airline industry.

What constraints do you foresee for the concepts represented in the Future X Network, and the role of Bell Labs Consulting in addressing them?
With this new digital era, the laws of business survival are being redefined, business models are being disrupted and businesses now have to decide whether to 'go with the flow', just react to change, or transform to become the 'business predator' and lead the charge.

At Bell Labs Consulting, we build techno-economic models that model the potential outcomes of implementing Future X Network vision. We bring our research and innovation to bear through a ""trusted advisor” relationship to help businesses connect technology decisions to financial success.

Bell Labs Consulting has been operating globally in telco and non-telco, enterprise and verticals segments. We are now seeing careful reflection and heightened interest across Middle East and Africa. The region now needs to decode the economics of future vision and the most efficient transformation path given the starting point.

The industry will have to embrace change and agility, build risk appetite and learn through failing fast and often, but at Bell Labs we can help to minimize the mistakes and maximize the value of successes in a hyper-connected digital world.

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