COMDEX/CANADA PLENARY SESSION
THE CRYSTAL BALL

Metro Toronto Convention Centre. July 13, 1994

It was exactly 150 years ago in 1844 that Samuel Morse used the telegraph for the first time to send a signal between Baltimore and Washington. We now routinely transfer data between computers at megabit rates and move information around the world with ease via satellite or fibre.

We all know that the I-way has the potential to dramatically change the way we live and work. It would be fun to speculate about what will happen in the next 150 years, but Star Trek has already done that. Instead, let’s take a look at just the next 15 years. This is a particularly important time, because I expect to be alive and involved for at least that long!

As we only have a few minutes and the topic selected is unbelievably broad, I am going to restrict my speculation to the field of wireless communications.

Most trends about what will happen in the next 15 years can already be ascertained. For example, most of the workforce in the year 2010 is already in place.

We can estimate fairly accurately that the population at that time will be some where over 7 billion people.

We can also make reasonably good predictions for the technology, knowing the development cycle from discovery to implementation.

Let me, therefore, suggest the following scenario for wireless. By 2010, wireless will have become the normal mode of communication. Predictions have been made that by that time more than half of all telephone calls will be made or received by a wireless unit.

Global satellite networks will be in place allowing direct communication between hand-held units anywhere in the world.

Multimode units will be used that will automatically select the most cost-effective means of carrying the signal, whether by satellite or by using mature terrestrial networks. This will be accomplished with seamless hand-off.

I predict the penetration of some form of wireless will exceed 30% worldwide due to the immense capacity of digital cellular-like systems. By the world, I include the less developed areas, from a telecommunications standpoint, such as Russia, the PRC and large parts of Africa. Wireless will be the preferred means of communication in these areas.

The units themselves will be voice-activated in a more sophisticated way than we experience today. This is the only way to eliminate the keypad – the second biggest challenge to reducing the size of wireless hand-held units.

The biggest challenge to smaller units is, of course, the energy source. A breakthrough in this area is not yet on the horizon, but there are many techniques that can be used to expand usable talk/listen time:

The units will be frequency-agile, and will pick the least power consuming transmission available to it.

The units will be in ‘sleep’ mode for as long as possible, during either breaks in the transmission, or of course, during standby time.

There will be pill-size batteries of greater power similar to those used in watches. These will be likely carried in a small tube, not unlike a pen, which can either be used to provide backup power or can be used like a hypodermic needle to insert the new microbattery.

In fact, for some years I have predicted that voice-activated wireless units will be about the size of a pen. It would be reasonably easy, therefore, to carry a pen and penlite (for the batteries) set.

To facilitate global contact, language translation will be offered. This already happens on long distance calls by human intervention. But by 2010, automated systems for most major language groups should be available. One only has to look at the work being done by the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Kyoto, where spoken Japanese is already being translated to synthesized-spoken English.

By that time, a single phone number for worldwide use will be the established process. Smart chips, as opposed to smart cards, will allow any unit to be personalized.

Long distance will be flat rate, similar to the local calling flat rate we already enjoy in North America. In fact, there will be no differentiation between long distance and local calls by that time.

Billing of the flat monthly charge will of course be by debit card only.

I predict that personal digital assistance (PDA’s) designed for reading handwriting will be only marginally popular. These units, by the very requirement of having keypads and tablets, will be bulky and really perpetuate an unnecessary concept. My boldest prediction is that voicemail will largely replace e-mail by this time.

However, plug-in units to the pen phone will be available for displays or other uses for those still desiring this mode.

There will, of course, be a variety of special purpose data units.

I believe this scenario is a safe one based on what we know we can accomplish today. However, a safe projection does not mean an unexciting one.

I believe that the social implication of finally achieving un-interceptable, universal, language independent, personal and affordable communications is mind boggling. I have just returned from Russia where I met with people from all walks of life. It is hard to hate those with whom you can communicate easily and regularly. I believe that World Wireless is the first step to real World Peace.