Good day Telecom Thinkers! Telecommunications is an enormous, expansive, and seemingly limitless universe of technologies, infrastructures, applications and regulations. So how can one communicate effectively about it? For one thing, it takes a big vocabulary! And anyone who has even dipped one toe into perusing telecom literature quickly learns, the first challenge to understanding telecommunications is actually understanding the telecom language.
Since this blog is devoted to building your telecom knowledge, it make sense that we start early on by defining something as simple as the key measurements of the digital world. And that's what we're going to do today - examine the measures of performance and success in the digital era. They are pertinent to advances in platforms, devices, applications and infrastructures.
There are three key measurements in the digital world:
- Processing power, measured in the number of transistors and operations per second
- Storage, measure in the number of bytes
- Bandwidth, or digital data transmission, measured in bits per second
Moore's Law says that the number of gates on a chip-hence the power of the microprocessor-doubles every 18 months. Intel's original microprocessor, introduced in 1971, had 2,300 transistors. Top-of-the-line computers in 2001 contained some 42 million transistors that performed 100 billion operations per second.
Today, Intel's high-end chip contains more than 1.7 billion transistors, and that number is expected to exceed 10 billion by 2010. Meanwhile, the Teraflops Research Chip is the latest development from the Intel(r) Tera-scale Computing Research Program. This chip is Intel's first silicon tera-scale research prototype. It is the first programmable chip to deliver more than one trillion floating point operations per second (1 Teraflops) of performance while consuming very little power.
Unfortunately, there's also an awful truth about Moore's Law. Today's transistors are about a micrometer in overall length, which means dozens of them could sit on top of a human red blood cell. This very success is bringing chipmakers to the brink of a new, steep obstacle to further gains in performance. The good news is that the industry is working on several solutions, including low k films and silicon photonics. We can't really do justice to the topic in a blog, but you can get all the details and more by viewing my elearning tutorial on the subject. Select the segment titled "Measurements of the Digital Era". This is a complimentary offering, and I encourage you to view the entire "Understanding the Broadband Era" module - it will open your eyes to the key trends driving the ICT industry. Please note, you need to first register on the LIDO Learning Center if you are not a member yet - there are no fees!
But, back to our discussion of processing power. On the positive side, thanks to Moore's Law, network endpoints today are small, powerful, inexpensive devices. With such power in the endpoints, the need to embed the functions of a network in the network's core shrinks. In addition, smart end devices can set up and manage calls far better than a centralized network can. In fact, implementing voice in end devices makes it possibly to mix it into other kinds of interactions as well, such as online game play, collaboration, and shared Web surfing.
Fast processors that support today's visualization and multimedia applications are just one piece of the puzzle. The second element is storage. The industry is currently seeing a doubling of storage density every 12 months. Emerging solutions promise incredible improvements in storage density and size. New storage devices are going to enable up to 1TB (terabyte) of storage; such a storage device would be able to contain 250 full-length films!
The developments in storage are a most interesting area, promising a future of holographic memory. Personally, I am fascinated by what a simple bacteria may mean to the future of memory. Bacteriorhodopsin, more affectionately known as BR, is one of the first forms of life on our planet; a protein grown by salt marsh bacteria at least 2.3 billion years ago and it is likely to become the wave of the future in computer data storage and manipulation. BR is a tiny, rugged protein that has improved through billions of years of evolution to become extremely efficient at converting light into energy. As a biological substance, the protein also enables data to be stored in three dimensions, just like the human brain.
To put this into context, holographic storage devices in general, could address the growing gap between the capacity of storage devices and the speed with which they access data. As an example, transferring a full-length high definition movie, a 30-gigabyte file, to a computer's hard drive may currently take up to 30 to 45 minutes. Holographic devices have the potential to reduce that time to less than 10 seconds. For additional information about holographic and other developments in storage technologies, please view my elearning tutorial on "Measurements of the Digital Era" .
Along with processing power and storage, the third of the three key measurements of the digital world is bandwidth. The term bandwidth comes from the visualization of the electromagnetic spectrum, where the spectrum is divided into bands. Each band and the channel within it has a width, expressed in Hertz (Hz), or cycles per second. The wider the band, the more information it can carry. The information transfer rate is expressed in the number of bits per second. Each transmission medium operates within a specific portion of the spectrum, which in turn determines the maximum bandwidth associated with that medium. To learn all the details about the characteristics associated with copper, coax, microwave, satellite and fiber transmission media, please download a free copy of the chapter "Transmission Media" - all you need to do is fill out a short registration form to access the resources available in the LIDO Telecom Essentials Learning Center. You can buy the book, Telecommunications Essentials: the Complete Global Resource by clicking here.
The table below lists the units that are commonly used in describing the data rates of various bandwidths.
Particularly over the past decade, networks have begun carrying greater and greater data rates. Gbps networks are now common, Pbps networks are beginning to emerge, and Ebps networks are expected to make an appearance within the next 3-5 years. But, in my experience, while most people are impressed by the large numbers we talk about relative to bandwidth, the measurements alone do not convey just how much data can be transferred at these speeds. So let me provide you with a few examples. At 10 Gbps, you can transfer the entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica, comprised of some 30 volumes, in the blink of an eye! Of course if you wanted to transmit the entire contents of the Library of Congress, at 10 Gbps it would take about 2.35 hours. But, at the speed of 1 Tbps, it would take only 1.41 minutes, and at 1 Ebps, it would take a mere 0.826 seconds!
Now, you may say, yes, but how many times do we need to download the entire Library of Congress? Do today's applications really require so much bandwidth? The answer is yes, as we begin to utilize more applications involving online virtual reality, 3-D holography, grid computing and web agents, we will require networks that operate in the Exabit per second range. Also, it is important to note, broadband access lines create a need for more bandwidth in the core - and with the number of broadband subscriber lines growing daily, not to mention the speed of broadband access alternatives destined to reach 100 Gpbs, it is only a matter of a few years before we find ourselves demanding networks operating in the Petabit and Exabit per second range!
Fortunately, advances in optical and wireless technologies promise to provide us with the necessary bandwidth, and more. Similarly, photonics will be key to the next generation of computing and storage. But to truly understand the broadband evolution, you must appreciate the developments in embedded devices, intelligent wearable, man-machine interactions, the full range of virtual reality technologies, grid computing and real-time communications.
To this end I invite all of you to take part in my elearning tutorial entitled "Understanding the Broadband Evolution". This is a complimentary offering, the only requirement is that you register to use the LIDO Telecom Essentials Learning Center. I promise you 98 minutes of a highly enjoyable exposure to the trends driving the broadband evolution. It will not only educate you on the key ICT trends, but it will also inspire you to learn all that you can about next generation networks and the broadband generation.
Click here to register if you are not yet a member of the LIDO Learning Center. Click here to access our free elearning tutorials, including "Understanding the Broadband Evolution". Open your eyes to what the future holds for you, professionally and personally! As I note in the introductory chapter of my book - I love telecommunications. It is powerful and it empowers, with far-reaching consequences. It has demonstrated the potential to transform society and business, and the revolution has only just begun.
Understand the Broadband Evolution - and go on to create wealth - all you have to do is "think telecom" !