In some of my previous missives, I have touched on the topic of a ubiquitous wireless global network. Within that, I have proposed the thesis that, regardless of platform, spectrum, or protocol, eventually wireless networks will be a transparent fabric that facilitates ubiquitous interconnect across all devices and platforms.
It matters not if it is cellular, Wi-Fi, RFID, NFC, ZigBee, Nest, etc., as well as public, private, licensed, unlicensed, military, government, the internet of anything and everything (loX), or any other wireless node. It will all, regardless of platform, fade into one universal network at some point. The age of every device being a cloud server for every other device is looming on the horizon, especially once such technologies as reconfigurable intelligent surfaces (RIS) become a reality.
Recently, I came across the term “endless fog.” It seems that someone has come up with another definition for that transparent, global, wireless network. It is described as a “network of nano-scale data centres with endless applications and monetising opportunities.”
The concept of an edgeless fog is certainly a catchy definition for the final ubiquitous umbrella of seamless networks. Perhaps this just to is to refresh conversation about 6G by calling it something new and making sure the vision of monetisation is not lost in the technology ether. This is generally thrown in there because, of course, the hot button is always how to monetise whatever new, reinvented, or rebranded topic is du jour.
However, let us put aside the part about going beyond the selling point of endless monetisation opportunities and drill down on the endless fog a bit.
The concept of an endless fog is not much different from that of 6G, insofar as every device acts both as a transmitter and a receiver, talking to every other device. That is one of the discussions supported by 5G advanced’s sidelink capability and also by RIS.
A ubiquitous seamless global network of RF is, technically, not that difficult. RF is RF and it follows the same physics model no matter where it is in the spectrum or what device it is. Obviously, behaviour and functionality vary based upon spectrum, platform, technology, etc. And, as with RF, modulation is modulation, even though there are different types. The same goes for propagation.
However, to accomplish this will require the industry to wade though a sea of challenges. While it is technically possible, the myriad of challenges will make it a long trek. And to partition this down into a more palatable discussion, and not drone on endlessly about every band and technology, let us talk cellular vs. Wi-Fi as a sample case.
For a while now, there has been some discussion that next-generation Wi-Fi will be a contender to cellular. Without a doubt, that will happen. Not necessarily in every situation, but Wi-Fi will mature to the point where it will be a viable alternative to licensed cellular. It is just a matter of time before Wi-Fi becomes edgeless and has the same feature set as licensed cellular. It will take a while, but the tipping point will come when the “fog”, for want of a better term, materialises and every device becomes a cloud server. The need for a centralised control point will no longer be necessary.
As I alluded to earlier, all wireless platforms are the same physically. As is the case with most platforms and applications, the Wi-Fi train is heading down the path of more spectrum, wider bandwidths, seamless handoffs, better security, and plug and play deployment. Discussions and implementations linking cellular and Wi-Fi have been around for quite some time and that implementation is gaining traction (carrier Wi-Fi and offloading of data to and from Wi-Fi networks, for example).
Looking at it from a high-level perspective, the difference is how platforms use RF. However, once the global network is nothing but nano-servers, this discussion becomes moot. Either every platform uses the same technology or there are simply black boxes at each network’s interconnect.
What will it take?
If we left it to existing industry players to work this out amongst themselves, we might wait until 99G. However, the next iteration of the loX (including “things” such as metaverse) is the wild card that may reshape this.
Whether we like it or not, the loX will be that endless fog platform. It will likely be called something else, but what is the loX, anyway? Nothing but a bunch of connected devices. Some are still tethered and some will remain so, but as we advance as a society, the majority of devices will become wireless. This is where everything will advance to becoming a cloud server.
How far away is this? At least a decade, likely two or three. We have not even broached the 6G platform yet outside of the academic sector. However, it might well be that 6G is the next iteration of the loX. This is where I will put my money (I have not forgotten about the metaverse’s universe of virtual world but that is a discussion for another time).
It will not be easy or quiet. Carriers, particularly, were being dragged, kicking and screaming, into becoming integrated content platforms. They are finally seeing the light-but already Amazon and Google are way ahead of the game. It will be challenging for carriers to evolve. Some are more forward thinking than others, but eventually everybody will get on that bandwagon. And look at lots of marriages along the path.
How the business landscape will look when everything is a node on a global network is still fuzzy. The future is one in which, whatever device one acquires will simply be another node on the global wireless network, regardless of its main function. Wireless will be transparent, so any monetization will have to come from verticals and apps. Service providers’ networks will be selected based on services and products, especially with XaaS (everything as a service) gaining momentum.
There is much more to touch on in this segment. But in the interest of keeping this a quick read, I will leave those for future discussions. However, circling back, it will be a long time before this ubiquitous network filled with trillions of nano-cloud devices materializes, and there will be many tangential paths along the way. How the final scenario will look is yet to be determined, but make no mistake, it will happen.
Ernest is a Senior Member of the IEEE, the Executive Editor of AGL’s Applied Wireless Technology, staff editor of AGL’s eDigest. Other credentials include being the Editor of the IEEE regional newsletter, Adjunct Professor, Colorado State University College of Engineering, the Vice-Chair, of the Denver IEEE ComSoc Chapter, a technical advisor for the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) Standards Development Committee, and former Technology Editor of Semiconductor Engineering’s IoX and security channels. He has been the editor of several other high-tech publications over the years as well.