Initiative launched to tackle future of communications

06/14/04

Cambridge-MIT Institute launches initiative to enhance the future of communications

"The spreadsheet came from an apartment in Massachusetts, the Ethernet came from a copier company, Napster came from a garage, and E-Bay was a start-up. SMS took people by surprise. So did the force of computer dating. How do you measure the other surprises waiting to be born when communications users become inventors?"

Andy Lippman, Senior Researcher, the Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) is today (Tuesday 15 June 2004) launching a new initiative to promote the progress of the entire communications industry and usher in a new era of innovation.

As the development of digital communications opens up the tantalising possibility of turning every mobile phone into a phone mast, and every television set into a broadcaster, CMI is today unveiling the new Communications Innovation Institute (CII). The CII will unite three universities from both sides of the Atlantic with industrial partners in computing and telecommunications, including BT, as well as policymakers. Together they will tackle some of the major challenges blocking new innovation in communications technology and draw up road maps to a successful future.

With the rapid convergence of computing and communications, major industries find that they must understand the requirements and technologies of this new world but see themselves saddled with costs and driven by the innovative turmoil of the computer industry. To ensure a bright future, the communications industry must deal with disruptive change, including technical innovation, social demands and economic concerns, to move forward in a coordinated fashion. This is the motivation behind the CII initiative.

CII will work to develop and implement some of the emerging technologies of the future, such as 3rd Generation peer-to-peer systems, expected to be implemented in two years' time, the testing of wireless-on-optical technology and a set of solutions to tackle internet piracy.

Social and economic issues will also be explored, as these cannot be separated from technological innovation. These will include designing a road map for wireless and spectrum usage and exploring the potential of 'viral' communications and the deployment of broadband.

Several questions will be addressed along the way. Are auctions, such as the Government auction of the 3G spectrum, for example, the best way to encourage efficient spectrum use? Is pricing the best way to control Internet congestion? And can we design new Internet architectures for routing and addressing that protect users from spam and attack, and provide control over who can send to them?

The CII is being set up by the Cambridge-MIT Institute, a joint venture between the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which works to enhance competitiveness, productivity and entrepreneurship of the UK. The CII is one of several new research initiatives being set up by the Cambridge-MIT Institute to bring academia and industry together to work on research in key areas where the UK has a competitive position, including telecommunications and information technology.

David Clark, Senior Research Scientist in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, is one of the principals involved in the CII. He says, "At its best, innovation on the Internet can be fast and powerful. Look at the growth of the game industry. At worst, there is seemingly no progress at all. Why? What are the causes? When we look at tough issues, such as better security or broadband deployment, we see that the issues are not a lack of technical innovation but the inability to agree and plan a path forward.

"Until now, communications research and the industry it serves have been plagued by the stove-pipe phenomenon. Classical academic research is partitioned into different labs and departments, and separate from industrial technology labs, business schools, government departments, and so on. We felt we needed to change this and provide a new structure that ties these different disciplines together." CII is the result of this new idea.

It will bring together researchers from the University of Cambridge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University College, London (UCL), along with partners in industry and government. By doing so, CII intends to create joint industry/academic solutions to architectural problems that hold back innovations in communications.

"We need to note how economic, regulatory and technical concerns interact," adds Jon Crowcroft, Marconi Professor of Networked Systems in the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Jon, who is one of the principals leading the CII, says: "We can't consider each of these in isolation any more. Some things are not solved by the market or by the government, or by Microsoft, Intel and Cisco, or small businesses or research labs or start-ups on their own."

The CII will have two key research objectives:

  • A better understanding of the communications industry value chain, resulting in road maps to possible futures. This activity spans communications providers, suppliers, manufacturers, content developers and consumers and will be conducted with an international suite of participants. The notion of constructing a road map for such a diverse industry and extending this to include dimensions of technology is unprecedented.

  • The demonstration of new enabling and disruptive technologies that have the power to transform the communications sector, especially as it becomes less hierarchical and more distributed. This segment of CII examines the core technologies of tomorrow's communications infrastructure wireless, fibre and digital signal processing and the business and regulatory issues associated with their implementation. This will provide commercial opportunities for industry as well as lessons for communications policy-makers.

Dr Andy Lippman, Senior Research Scientist at MIT's Media Lab, is also part of the CII team. Andy is passionate about the power and importance of disruptive technology in the new communications sector. "The communications industry is about to change as significantly as computing did with the PC," he says. "Programmability at the ends, be they TVs or telephones, allows the users to become the inventors. Just as spreadsheets came from PC users, communications innovations will come from user-inventors. They outnumber companies 100 to 1.

"How do you measure the other surprises waiting to be born that can happen when communications users become inventors? Will it be the dog collar that buzzes when you want your dog to come home? Will it be movies and messages you get as you walk through parks and past monuments? Will it be personal phone exchanges? We don't know. But we are sure that old standards, such as video-on-demand and call waiting, will seem dull in comparison."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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