Defining the Gigabit Society and How It Can Change Industries

Chuck Pol, President and Country Chairperson, Vodafone Americas
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Chuck Pol, President and Country Chairperson, Vodafone Americas

Telecommunications and mobility connectivity are breeding grounds for innovation. It has transformed the way people communicate, share content, digest news, entertain themselves, and how companies do business. However, as each year passes, the size of the new connected world and the demands of the individuals living in it continue to grow at an astounding rate.  

Gartner projects that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide this year (2016), up to 30 percent from last year. Gartner had also forecast that number will grow to nearly 21 billion by the year 2020–which triples Earth’s population, sitting just north of seven billion. These numbers show that connections are going beyond just a single device for each individual and that things will increasingly be connected as we continue to drive innovation.  

While today’s infrastructure can sustain the current culture of connectivity, as we continue to innovate, the technology behind the connectivity must change as well. But, today’s legacy copper connections used in most networks are not designed to handle that rapid growth and continuous connected innovation. As industries evolve the services they offer to customers, they’ll require ‘gigabit’ connectivity that can provide reliable and consistent high quality connections no matter the distance. 

This reality means that we must look forward and build the Gigabit Society–one where individuals and businesses alike can benefit from widespread connectivity of one gigabit per second, low latency and reliable performance delivered by robust, future-proof, fixed, and mobile technologies. To make this vision a reality, communications providers need to start charging forward toward fiber optic connections to usher in the era of the Gigabit Society.

 This reality means that we must look forward and build the Gigabit Society–one where individuals and businesses alike can benefit from widespread connectivity of one gigabit per second 

Similar to the innovation that has already taken place thanks to connectivity, there are many direct and indirect benefits of a Gigabit Society. The need for a Gigabit Society is clearly emerging across a number of industries. For example, there are six specific industries which will ultimately positively change across the board, including:

1. Better healthcare: Today, the healthcare sector relies on outdated infrastructure and many ‘pre-digital’ working practices. However, in a Gigabit Society, fiber networks will usher in huge potentials in digital health such as remote patient monitoring, remote care and rehabilitation, professional operative consultations, and research (e.g. next generation genome sequencing). For example, with today’s legacy network it takes 14 minutes for doctors to share the average two gigabyte CT scan between hospitals. With a fiber network, the same process would take 40 seconds.

2. Better education: New educational tools and applications can be enabled by fiber networks such as immersive virtual reality training for professionals and remote interactive learning. In the Gigabit Society, virtual reality games can be downloaded in 1.7 minutes whereas it takes 34 minutes in today’s networks. Fiber networks will support increased digitization within the classroom (e.g. to download content on tablets or laptop), allowing education to become more personalized.

3. Increased security: When fiber networks are in place, more and higher quality images can be captured and analyzed while artificial intelligence (AI) can recognize potential threats and immediately activate emergency responses.

4. Positive social impact: Communities can grow closer together and reap the benefits of maintaining relationships over long distances. The Gigabit Society enables communities to leverage new applications for entertainment, collaboration and social inclusion, meaning that individuals with limited physical mobility can still participate in events outside their home.

5. Positive impact on environment: Next generation smart grid and smart mobility can have a positive impact on energy consumption and CO2 emissions. With applications like automated energy demand response, smart highways, autonomous transportation and smart traffic management tools, the environment can benefit from a Gigabit Society.

6. Increased employment: Obviously, jobs will be created in order to construct the new fiber infrastructure, however, even long term, the Gigabit Society will enable new applications and business models to appear and create new job opportunities.

While these potential benefits are clear, not all key stakeholders in government and industry players understand the value that gigabit speed can bring to society. This lack of awareness is one of the key barriers that can stunt the growth of the Gigabit Society. Additional roadblocks include the cost associated with building fiber products. Different fiber projects can vary significantly in cost due to the requirements that each project may need, however, efforts should be made to open all types of financing to invest in fiber instead of trying to cut corners.

The demand for faster connectivity will only continue to grow with more devices becoming connected, so the telecommunications industry must be prepared to answer the need. By understanding the demand and the vast potential that fiber networks can bring across industries, the Gigabit Society is an achievable reality.  

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