Timothy M. Denton

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Is 5G the next Concorde?

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Yeah, I know. I know nothing. But I keep having this strange uncanny feeling. Maybe 5G is not the coming thing. Maybe the intensification of equipment that is necessary to make high frequencies work cannot be successfully installed at a cost people are ready to afford. Maybe it is pushing the possibilities of technical advance to the point where we arrive at the Concorde. 

The Concorde flew. It manifestly worked. But it did not become the standard. Jets fly best at subsonic speeds, as any engineer can tell you. The energy needed to break the sound barrier continues to be needed to fly faster than the sound barrier. The shock wave is energy expended.The performance increase in getting to Europe in two hours from New York was not worth it. 

So we all know this. But is there a lesson from the Concorde for the microchip revolution yet?

For fifty years we have been riding the wave of technical innovation made possible by the microchip. Phones in cameras. Computer power in our hands unrivalled by anything that was possible thirty years ago. 

The microchip is fifty years old. I am not saying that Moore's Law will continue or will not continue. I am suggesting, however uncertainly, and quite tentatively, that 5G may mark the time when microchip technology becomes stale, where the innovation passes on to some as yet unforeseen area. Like CRISPR, which will allow biological innovation. 

The point I am making is that the tsunami of technological innovation coming from the microchip may be coming to its end. Every technological revolution has an end point. Electricity leads to illuminated cities and high rise buildings. Electricity has not gone away, but it has probably stopped revolutionizing how we live. It has become a utility. The motor car may also be at the end of its revolution in shaping how we live. The automobile has done its work, and our lives are shaped by cars, but the motor revolution is over.

I am not saying that advances in microchip technology will not continue, because they will. This is not, I hope, the equivalent of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History thesis. What I am suggesting - repeat suggesting- is that the revolutionary effects of the microchip will have become normalized, adapted to, in some near time frame. They will cease to be as important and revolutionizing as they have been.

If I knew what the next revolutionary technology was I would be very much better off. But for sure it will not be more of the same. That would just be 5G.

 

 

 

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Friday, 17 January 2020
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