Opinion: from VR to Li-Fi and 5G to mmWave, chances are a huge amount of new technology will be part of our lives a decade from now 

By Harun Siljak, TCD

Writing detective stories full of suspense and uncertainty is often easier when the plot is set in the past. The development of technology is drilling plot holes in old stories. Why didn’t she use her phone? Why didn’t he look it up online? What about GPS? And even when the technology is there, it may be outdated. How did he use the phone cord for that? I mean, who even uses corded phones anymore?

To make things harder, let's do the opposite and look at what the future will bring and what the 2028 scene might look like. Will it be "how didn’t he know he’d have a heart attack?" and "what do you mean, she was driving the car herself?" Of course, it is more than writing whodunit novels - it’s about what the new generation of wireless communications might bring.

It’s 2028 and Artificial Intelligence (AI) still hasn’t taken Emma’s job. She works in a shiny new cordless virtual and augmented reality office in Dublin's Docklands, surrounded by helpful AI and brilliant colleagues. After severe injuries to people working in VR offices full of wires and cords, Emma’s company went wireless, thanks to the huge data rates and tiny latency of 5G. Now, Emma can do virtually anything (pun intended) with her headset.

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This illustrates the first important conceptual change: doing critical and heavy tasks without the wire, often relying on cellular data. It's an evolutionary process, which has gone from "don’t do more than email checking on your phone" to "don’t download that 5 GB update while using cellular data". Regardless of if the limiting factor was speed, latency or price, the promise of 5G should take more of the traffic on the air.

Emma’s dad just underwent a wireless surgery done by a surgeon in the United States controlling a robot in Dublin. As if that wasn’t enough, his condition was originally diagnosed using the wireless wearable body sensors. The surgeon is rather enthusiastic about the wireless swarms surrounding people, and Emma’s job as an information security expert is to keep the swarms friendly and tame.

The rapid increase in the number of devices everyone uses and owns and the necessity for the devices to be accessible to everyone drew the attention of Emma’s colleagues and their illegal counterparts. Emma’s car mustn’t go wild and endanger anyone but, on the other hand, it also shouldn't allow Emma to override all of its systems and endanger others on the road. The same holds for Emma’s smart house or her wearables. The information security is a new form of cyborg medicine for augmented humans, houses, cars.

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There’s something odd about Emma’s posture and moves, though. Is it a future thing? Yes, it might be a 5G-related. She is moving her mobile devices a bit to get the best connection to her mmWave access point. While it may not be today, mmWave is a household name in 2022, as it finally jumped over all of the obstacles for its proliferation. As you may have guessed, it’s a system using electromagnetic waves with millimetre scale wavelengths (i.e., frequencies over 6 GHz). In that frequency range, we get a big bandwidth and even today, we know a big bandwidth is something we love.

The shift to higher frequencies is something we’ve witnessed for years in the radio world: you may remember the time when longwave was all the rage (RTÉ Radio One still broadcasts on 252 kHz longwave) as it could reach farther than the ~100 MHz FM. Hills and mountains didn’t seem to be a problem, and those kilohertz frequencies would reach neighbouring countries, while the FM would have trouble reaching the next town. This was always a trade-off: distance and obstacle sensitivity were on the lower frequencies side, but the increased bandwidth was the deciding factor coming from the higher frequency side. You may have had to look for the best place in the house for FM radio reception, but you had more stations to choose from.

And mmWave is not an exception: we get huge data rates, but at the expense of it being rather sensitive to obstacles. Unfortunately, the obstacle can be anything or anyone, including our friend Emma’s body or her hand holding the device. That is why Emma adapts to get the data rates she deserves.

While the changes to come may seem strange, they are from the same stream of changes that brought us spam emails, dating apps and blurred vision

If you thought that was silly (and it’s not far from switching hands when talking on your phone right now), wait to see Emma going after the light. While human beings are still not doing photosynthesis in 2028, they are using light for connectivity. Another household name of the future, Li-Fi replaces gigahertz frequencies of Wi-Fi with terahertz frequencies of visible light to provide big data rates. Visible light is easily stopped by objects, so you might want to keep yourself in the spotlight which is exactly what Emma is doing, hence the awkward position.

Every technology era did this to our bodies and our movement: look how people hold phones in the street, look how they type their texts (actually, do people text anymore?) or how they handle their earbuds. The 2018 Emma is not too terrified after reading this about her future. While the changes may seem strange, they are from the same stream of changes that brought us spam emails, dating apps and blurred vision. No new thing under the sun.

Dr Harun Siljak is an EDGE MSCA Research Fellow at CONNECT at Trinity College Dublin

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ