Soon, internet browsing, social media messaging and video calls will not be the primary usage of telecommunication technology. Instead, the Internet of Things (IoT) based new era will emerge as the future of telecommunication.
IoT in conjunction with artificial intelligence and big data analytics are currently shaping the use of the internet.
Automation in every sector with the help of fast and reliable internet service is revolutionizing how the internet works in every sector.
Along with that a very interesting transformation is coming next, which is virtual augmented reality, a virtual world which would be useful in virtually every sector – in education, the health sector, agriculture; and, of course, in gaming and entertainment.
With the use of technology like IoT, backed by 5G and fiber optic transport network, a farmer will be able to learn the water availability, need for fertilizer in the irrigation session, and the right time of harvesting; a patient would be able to avail urban healthcare without having to sit in city traffic, and the students in a remote village would be able to have a virtual tour to the Eiffel Tower or to the Pyramids.
However, we have to be cognizant of the potential negative impact of the technology, which are very much overlooked as of now.
For instance, gaming would be so different that violence on screen can no longer be trivialised as part of a "game". While kids playing violent video games is not necessarily the most acceptable form of entertainment, in augmented reality the fighting and killings will be tremendously more effective. When you carry out violence in augmented reality, it will be a lot closer to the real experience. Killing a human will be, in many ways, disturbingly similar to the actual act.
Needless to say, this is something children must not be exposed to. Screen addiction is already a major concern around the globe. With easy access to an infinite amount of content online, children are consuming them constantly. One of the effects of that, among many, is that children are now reluctant to speak their mother tongue.
Addiction to social media is impacting family life for many, particularly among the younger generations. It is causing isolation and mental stress. It's high time to find a way to allow our next generation to use these modern technologies in an effective way, so that they do not fall prey to the undesirable consequence of technology adoption. We need proper management and planning to capitalize on the benefit of technology for the betterment of mankind.
As part of the next technology evolution, Bangladesh is also moving towards 5G rollout. One of the basic requirements for 5G rollout is fiberization. Thankfully, fibers are in place for all major areas. Now, coverage for the rural areas should be given priority.
To implement 5G effectively we need to allocate the required spectrum to the mobile operators and the price of spectrum should be set reasonably. Instead of keeping the price high, the government can set a rollout obligation to operators along with guaranteed quality of service.
While the potential usage of 5G is limitless, we need to find out which areas would be most pragmatic for Bangladesh to focus on.
It will take quite a while for the country to migrate to 5G for regular telephone and internet data services, as 5G enabled handsets comprise only two percent of the total number of smartphones currently being used nation-wde. But we can look at some of the other areas where we can utilise 5G.
During the Covid-19 pandemic period, our digital divide became very visible. In the last two years, students of large cities, including Dhaka, benefited from learning online, while students outside of large cities found themselves excluded.
There is a need to be prepared to face any potential future crisis, like the Covid-19 pandemic, when online communication will be vital. By using low frequency 5G technology we can cover a wide area with minimum cell sites in the rural areas.
Industry automation is a big area and 5G can play a pivotal role there. There is a prevailing fear that people will lose jobs because of automation. The fear is not unsubstantiated. For labour intensive and risky work like mining, shipbreaking, loading and unloading, 5G and robotics together can achieve miracles. This does mean that people in manual labour will lose jobs.
But this is perhaps not the right way to think about this. While many jobs might become obsolete, automation will at the same time create many new jobs, which includes outsourcing jobs from abroad.
We need to be creative and innovative in creating the skilled manpower so that they are able to get the technology-driven jobs at home and abroad.
The major area of our weakness in technology adoption in Bangladesh is that we could not transform or produce effective and user-friendly services for the common people by using modern technology.
Digital services make life easier and simpler by bringing everything to our fingertips. Mobile financial services (MFS) is one of the biggest achievements in service innovation. With nearly every individual in Bangladesh having reasonable accessibility to MFS, it has achieved something extraordinary, something unthinkable only a few years ago.
Despite these strides, there are shortcomings. Digitalisation initiatives often end up becoming just computerisation. Instead of using laser books, we are storing data in the computer system, but the process remains the same. We are not using the power of digital data and not creating a data driven process and decision-making system. Secondly, initiatives are siloed and do not consider dependencies and relations with other systems.
The birth certificate registration service, for instance, is hardly more than a glorified printing system posing as a digital service. To get a birth certificate, the applicant has to acquire a certificate from the hospital first, then go to the ward commissioner's office for approval, then go to the city corporation office where the city corporation staff will initiate the birth registration services.
But in a digital environment we just need to create a data flow mechanism from the hospital to the City Corporation and everything else will be done automatically. No one will have to run around with papers.
And then, birth registration should automatically sync with the national ID management system, and citizens should receive the NID when s/he is 18 years old. Similarly, death registration should be synced with the NID so if someone dies all the relevant authorities will be updated automatically, enabling them to take necessary actions initiating bank and insurance processes, etc.
There is no doubt that 5G and new technologies will be eventually available everywhere. IoT will be the key driver in automation in every sector. To get the desired outcome from the technology rollout we need to set the right strategy and proper governance mechanism.
The governance of the internet is well managed by global collaboration among the technical community and its effectiveness has passed the test of time and was again well proven during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the governance of services running through the internet is getting difficult day by day. The more influential the services are becoming, the more challenges are coming up. And different stakeholders are trying to get more control on the internet, which includes governments, businesses, social and religious groups and of course, the bad actors.
It is extremely important to truly understand and appreciate the possibilities as well as the upcoming challenges relating to IoT and 5G. Collaboration and cooperation among all the stakeholders is the key to achieve a sustainable, robust, reliable and effective internet for the future.
Sumon Ahmed Sabir is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Fiber@Home, a NTTN operator in Bangladesh. He also serves as Executive Council Member of Asia Pacific Network Operation Center(APNIC). He has around thirty years of working experience in the telecom and ICT industry.