The History, And Future, Of Wireless Subject Of Marconi Talk

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Topics: Marconi and wireless technology

Author and science consultant Ira Brodsky. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAMPORT – Is the innovative technology displayed in Star Trek within our reach? On the contrary, according to author and science consultant Ira Brodsky. Except for the transporter, "Star Trek is already behind what we can do."

With cellphones now playing an ever more essential role in our lives, what can we expect for the future? Wireless technology has come a long way, primarily through a series of creative leaps, according to Brodsky, whose articles have appeared in a number of publications including ComputerWorld. In a Feb. 4 presentation for the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center's First Thursday Virtual Speakers Series titled "From Sparks to 5G and Beyond," Brodsky described the leaps in wireless technology to date and provided a glimpse into what we can expect in the years ahead.

In 1865, as the Civil War was ending, the first steps in understanding wireless technology were taken by James Maxwell, who theorized that electromagnetic waves moved at the speed of light. It took a subsequent discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz to prove Maxwell's theory. Having confirmed it, Hertz subsequently concluded that his discovery had, in fact, "no useful application." Although Hertz saw no application, his contemporary Guglielmo Marconi did, and in 1897 the Marconi Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company was born.

Marconi's business prowess, which Brodsky compared to that of legendary Apple founder Steve Jobs, turned the theoretical into a reality. He used the new technology in areas where radio wires couldn't be run, namely the maritime environment. By bundling the wireless technology, the operators and the equipment, Marconi created a monopoly for this new wireless service.

With a legitimate use demonstrated, a series of leaps over the decades that followed included the creation of continuous waves, the addition of vacuum tubes and the very earliest cellular telephones. "There weren't enough channels" in those early phones, Brodsky said, "but the idea brought hope."

In the early and mid '80s, Motorola and AT&T were some of the dominant cell phone producers, but even they had no real idea of the future of that phone. "AT&T predicted there would be 900,000 cell phones in use by 2000," Brodsky said. "In fact, by 2000 there were 100 million cell phones in use."

It was the arrival of the iPhone in 2007 that turned the cellular world "upside down," according to Brodsky. Wireless providers had been offering their own phones, tied to their networks. Apple basically said to all, "We have one phone...use it or not," according to Brodsky. The disconnection of the phone from the service had begun. That changed the smartphone marketplace permanently.

By 2010, fourth generation, or 4G, heralded the arrival of a variety of enhancements to the smartphone infrastructure, including improvements to the vexing problem of signal interference. That opened the door to higher speeds, interactive multimedia, voice, video, wireless internet and other broadband services.

Every 10 years or so a new generation of infrastructure and devices comes along Brodsky said. Today we are on the threshold of the fifth generation, or 5G, bringing with it faster speed and the capacity to move more data with a reduced lag time. It also heralds "a tremendous increase in capacity," Brodsky noted, pointing to a 500 percent increase in spectrum allocated by the FCC, which will allow targeted improved service to rural areas and dense urban locations. Other 5G innovations offer the potential for wireless to compete with cable networks, enhancements in virtual reality and the ability to monitor and control devices.

Looking ahead, although enhancements and upgrades to 5G service will appear over the coming years, Brodsky expects that the sixth generation or 6G will not be ushered in till around 2030. "It will include incredible speeds, almost fiber optic cable speeds," Brodsky stressed. He expects the capability will exist to fully attend a function like a basketball game in real time through virtual reality.

By that time he expects users to be able to "charge their cellphone wirelessly while walking through the airport," for example. Clothing embedded with sensors is likely, as well as indoor/outdoor wireless convergence.

When asked by a listener what the biggest challenges ahead are, Brodsky cited cultural challenges. We will need to "encourage innovative and unique solutions. We will need to keep channels open for innovative technology."

Privacy issues will continue to be a concern. "Our cell phones are sending out information about us all the time. It may be of little value to us but not to commercial interests," Brodsky said, adding, "so many things are being tracked. Everywhere you go and whatever you do is being tracked." He added a cautionary note. "This brand new world will require concerted action by consumers."

 

The Chatham Marconi Maritime Center First Thursday Speaker Series will continue through June. Next up is "Tracking Shorebirds and Seabirds of the North Atlantic" with Wildlife biologist Pan Loring on March 4. For more information go to www.chathammarconi.org.

CHATHAM – Is the innovative technology displayed in Star Trek within our reach? On the contrary, according to author and science consultant Ira Brodsky. Except for the transporter, "Star Trek is already behind what we can do."With cellphones now playing an ever more essential role in our lives, what can we expect for the future? Wireless technology has come a long way, primarily through a series of creative leaps, according to Brodsky, whose articles have appeared in a number of publications including ComputerWorld. In a Feb. 4 presentation for the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center's First Thursday Virtual Speakers Series titled "From Sparks to 5G and Beyond," Brodsky described the leaps in wireless technology to date and provided a glimpse into what we can expect in the years ahead.In 1865, as the Civil War was ending, the first steps in understanding wireless technology were taken by James Maxwell, who theorized that electromagnetic waves moved at the speed of light. It took a subsequent discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz to prove Maxwell's theory. Having confirmed it, Hertz subsequently concluded that his discovery had, in fact, "no useful application." Although Hertz saw no application, his contemporary Guglielmo Marconi did, and in 1897 the Marconi Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company was born.Marconi's business prowess, which Brodsky compared to that of legendary Apple founder Steve Jobs, turned the theoretical into a reality. He used the new technology in areas where radio wires couldn't be run, namely the maritime environment. By bundling the wireless technology, the operators and the equipment, Marconi created a monopoly for this new wireless service.With a legitimate use demonstrated, a series of leaps over the decades that followed included the creation of continuous waves, the addition of vacuum tubes and the very earliest cellular telephones. "There weren't enough channels" in those early phones, Brodsky said, "but the idea brought hope."In the early and mid '80s, Motorola and AT&T were some of the dominant cell phone producers, but even they had no real idea of the future of that phone. "AT&T predicted there would be 900,000 cell phones in use by 2000," Brodsky said. "In fact, by 2000 there were 100 million cell phones in use."It was the arrival of the iPhone in 2007 that turned the cellular world "upside down," according to Brodsky. Wireless providers had been offering their own phones, tied to their networks. Apple basically said to all, "We have one phone...use it or not," according to Brodsky. The disconnection of the phone from the service had begun. That changed the smartphone marketplace permanently.By 2010, fourth generation, or 4G, heralded the arrival of a variety of enhancements to the smartphone infrastructure, including improvements to the vexing problem of signal interference. That opened the door to higher speeds, interactive multimedia, voice, video, wireless internet and other broadband services.Every 10 years or so a new generation of infrastructure and devices comes along Brodsky said. Today we are on the threshold of the fifth generation, or 5G, bringing with it faster speed and the capacity to move more data with a reduced lag time. It also heralds "a tremendous increase in capacity," Brodsky noted, pointing to a 500 percent increase in spectrum allocated by the FCC, which will allow targeted improved service to rural areas and dense urban locations. Other 5G innovations offer the potential for wireless to compete with cable networks, enhancements in virtual reality and the ability to monitor and control devices.Looking ahead, although enhancements and upgrades to 5G service will appear over the coming years, Brodsky expects that the sixth generation or 6G will not be ushered in till around 2030. "It will include incredible speeds, almost fiber optic cable speeds," Brodsky stressed. He expects the capability will exist to fully attend a function like a basketball game in real time through virtual reality.By that time he expects users to be able to "charge their cellphone wirelessly while walking through the airport," for example. Clothing embedded with sensors is likely, as well as indoor/outdoor wireless convergence.When asked by a listener what the biggest challenges ahead are, Brodsky cited cultural challenges. We will need to "encourage innovative and unique solutions. We will need to keep channels open for innovative technology."Privacy issues will continue to be a concern. "Our cell phones are sending out information about us all the time. It may be of little value to us but not to commercial interests," Brodsky said, adding, "so many things are being tracked. Everywhere you go and whatever you do is being tracked." He added a cautionary note. "This brand new world will require concerted action by consumers."The Chatham Marconi Maritime Center First Thursday Speaker Series will continue through June. Next up is "Tracking Shorebirds and Seabirds of the North Atlantic" with Wildlife biologist Pan Loring on March 4. For more information go to www.chathammarconi.org.