Earlier this month I met with my old friend Phil McKinney who I met at HP and is now running CableLabs. CableLabs has just finished a competition on what companies would do with the massive coming increases in bandwidth. This reminded me a bit of the early days of the PC market where people were struggling with both the performance they had and what to do with the performance they were going to get in the future. There were a considerable number of folks arguing that there was no way we’d be able to use performance that would have been inadequate in today’s Smartphones, let alone today’s PCs.
This goes a long way to saying that before a level of performance is available, it is extremely hard to determine how that performance will be used, but when that performance is available, people find a way to use it. You can check out the winners here, but they tend to fall into two major categories: solutions that need a consistently high bandwidth link because of what they are doing real-time (autonomous technology), and things that need both very high resolution and very low latency (healthcare and related technology).
Let’s explore our high bandwidth future this week.
The big problem with healthcare is staffing. It’s a nasty problem with a variety of increasingly complex elements that range from the changing laws surrounding healthcare (abortion restrictions are an example) which must be managed both consistently and in the least disruptive way for patents, to the lack of key experts where they are needed and an overall shortage of employees.
Solutions to these problems range from remote training that enables providers to better address staffing shortages, to enhanced telemedicine that allows a remote expert to be anyplace in the world they need to be digital, to AI-based interfaces into practices that can help individual healthcare facilities navigate the nasty changes in laws and patients’ rights while providing legal help and advice when the patient’s health has been compromised by that legal quagmire. (This last was not highlighted by the competition winners but would be enhanced by higher bandwidth capabilities).
Farming is generally considered to be relatively low-tech, but much of the autonomous technology is finding its way into the market both because so much of what farmers do is repetitive and lends itself to robotics. But some of the newest weed and pest mitigation technologies that avoid pesticides and herbicides to better protect the environment require a massive amount of AI capability for selective targeting and a far more ubiquitous connection to remote resources to mitigate downtime and assure the related hardware will work in the narrow windows when it must operate.
But farms are not set up to install data centers which makes them low-hanging fruit for some form of cloud service but with unusually high data requirements so that localized issues, like the potential intrusion of an invasive plant or insect, can be identified and addressed before the crops are catastrophically damaged.
Farms are quickly moving from some of the least technologically advanced verticals to some of the most as water shortages, climate change and staffing issues are working to catastrophically damage their operations and, in some areas, even their viability.
As a result, in the future, we may wake up to find that farms, far from being the least technologically advanced, may lead to applied technologies like remote viewing and artificial intelligence that are enhanced by the next wave of increased bandwidth and reduced latency.
Performance continues to increase rapidly but continues to lag the need for this performance and will for the near future. We looked at two verticals, healthcare, and farming, where this need is particularly pronounced now, but as we move to data-intensive technologies like the metaverse, our need for bandwidth and low latency will only increase, suggesting that we’ll never reach a point of having enough bandwidth. So, it’s a good thing there’s no hard limit to eventual bandwidth because we’ll likely always find we need more than what is currently supplied.