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The Next Generation Of Big Ideas

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Look into the blue African skies over Rwanda, remarked CMC Networks’ Marisa Trisolino, and you may see something truly intriguing: a drone skimming along carrying medicines and blood supplies to remote clinics. Half a world away, early-stage developments are promising the same in the Pacific Islands.

It’s not the only example of out-of-the-box thinking, declared Ms. Trisolino, but it’s an example, among many, of new possibilities regarding technological leapfrogging in a new era.

Her musings on new approaches remind us that the unexpected may actually occur with startling speed when the conditions are optimal.

Communities served, impassable roads completely bypassed. These tiny (but, extremely important) ideas could serve as metaphors for this year’s Annual Conference, which again excelled in the biggest of big pictures, offering competing and comparative views, and perspectives on practically everything. From its 150+ speakers and many thousand conversations, PTC’19 again reminded us through its seniority of commentary that we’re just scratching the surface of what is possible.

Are we to expect more? Probably. A lot more. The truth is, almost certainly, we’re about to make other major—unprecedentedly major—leaps forward.

In 2019, we’re on the threshold of the 5G era, and very likely at AI era, Blockchain era, and IoT era. Subsea cable capacity just keeps powering up, especially in the Asia Pacific. Data center developments are simply rocketing. The community is succeeding with broadband satellite developments and seemingly ready to deploy stunning advances in the deployment of LEO satellite constellations.

The current explosion of bandwidth and access (for those who have it) is unparalleled. Furthermore, the numbers and projections indicate there’s no end in sight. ITU Deputy Secretary-General, Malcolm Johnson, reminded us that even the major indicator–the number of people globally who can get online–passed the halfway mark in the last few months.

It goes even further, though. Change everywhere is the new standard. Moreover, disruption is the new norm. “Disruption means everyday something is changing,” said Bharti Airtel’s Pankaj Miglani.

These changes are big ones, speaker after speaker emphasized. The industry is being constantly disrupted by new ideas and new technologies, revealing the nervous system of the global information society is constantly changing and renewing itself.

The resulting transformation is far-reaching. Equinix’s Charles Meyers, acknowledging the gigantic demand that data center providers are seeing, talked of a digital imperative for service providers, and an interconnected edge in the data world.

Even definitions of what the industry is doing are changing and blurring. When we need to reach for new concepts and metaphors, it’s apparent the upheaval is a fundamental one. Former Cisco VP/CTO Lew Tucker discussed the need for a new narrative of services becoming platforms and assembled as such. No one I know would disagree with this need to reconceptualize.

Such far-reaching change is bringing its own challenges. Can the industry sustain such headlong progress? We may be running short of human capacity to meet the demand. We heard an insistency for the community to prove its inclusivity and foster talent to support these changes. XSite Modular’s Amy Marks predicted we would be “in crisis” if it didn’t.

Policy and regulatory dimensions are also about to be tested in new ways, commentators predicted, and they seem to be lagging further behind than ever. Policy guru George Ford lambasted past regulatory choices which frequently achieved the opposite of what was intended.

Meanwhile, geopolitics has become a major issue with countries competing for strategic global leadership through technology. Nationally and internationally, there are pressures on governance as far separated as foreign direct investment, net neutrality, spectrum management, and even privacy, post-GDPR.

In these, we need to make good choices in a complex world. It seems a world away from a drone delivering medicines; however, ITU’s Malcolm Johnson said the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals–the global benchmark indicator–would be impossible to achieve without ICT.

The potential changes and possibilities affect millions. So, the pressure is on. With uncanny insight, PTC’19 has likely identified that a global digital transformation is imminent. It’s a transformation characterized by technologies, leapfrogs, changes, disruptions, and yes, good choices. U.S. Senator Brian Schatz echoed what many probably think, in calling for something beyond concentrating on the simply trivial. “We have apps that makes things easier in the short term but don’t really improve anything in the longer term,” he said. “We need to put people first and focus on solving real problems. We should be solving bigger problems than how quickly I can get my sandwich.”

Global digital transformation. What a prospect.

At PTC’19, we acquired a sense of what is to come. At PTC’20, we will weigh in on the accomplishments.

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