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Beyond ICT: Embracing the Next Digital Revolution

SHENZHEN, China, Dec. 31, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The history of human social development is, to some extent, the history of human scientific and technological progress. Humanity achieves scientific and technological progress by pushing its physical and mental limits and breaking away from the restrictions of time and space. This has been true in times both ancient and modern. Our ancestors built beacon towers and invented the wheel, while we have ubiquitous Internet connection and vehicles capable of reaching outer space. In the course of our scientific and technological development, two epoch-making inventions have been the steam engine and the computer. The steam engine ushered in the industrial age by providing far more power than what manual labor and beasts of burden could generate. The computer brought us into the information age through data processing capabilities that far outperform the human brain.

The past century has witnessed several waves of progress made possible by information technologies, including those used for communications (telegraphy, telephony, and broadcasting), home entertainment (radio, TV), computing, and the Internet. Information technologies drive economic growth worldwide and reshape the way people live and work. At present, we are evolving from a "society on wheels" to a "society on the network." However, information systems are still regarded as aid tools and support systems, keeping the digital and physical worlds somewhat parallel and compartmentalized. Now, as the digital and physical worlds begin to merge, the development of the Internet of Things has proven to be an effective catalyst of information-based developments and is sure to bring groundbreaking changes to all of humanity.

1.        Beyond information and communications, the increasing integration of the digital and physical worlds will lead to a new digital revolution.

British philosopher Karl R. Popper divides human society into three parts: the physical world, the mental/psychological world, and the world of products of the human mind (also known as the world of objective knowledge). In the future, the physical world will be married with the digital world to form a new world. This integration will bring tremendous changes to the way we live and work, the way businesses operate, and the way society functions — a new age of digital citizens, digital enterprises, and digital society.

  • Heavy reliance on networks will usher in an age of digital citizenry. Nowadays, the ways in which people communicate, acquire information, study, have fun, shop, make friends, and pair-bond are quite different from what we saw just two decades ago. People not only have more means to stay connected and obtain information, but have exceeded the constraints of their physical location or time zone. With the developments in this short time span, rather than waiting days or even months for letters to arrive, people now contact others in real time via email, instant messaging, and social networking. Likewise, people can read the news online anytime, anywhere, rather than clinging to their TVs or radios. Wikipedia and other interactive platforms allow people to easily find answers to their questions, without having to wade through voluminous encyclopedias or wait for office hour-working librarians. Internet users exceeded 2.4 billion in 2012, over 34% of the world's population, with this figure growing roughly 8% each year. There are also as many as 1.1 billion smartphone subscribers right now, an increase of 42% over 2011. However, this is just the beginning. As digital lifestyles are adopted, digital citizenry will shape the behaviors of next-gen consumers, changing the way people live, and shaking up numerous industries. For example, traditional video sales and rental stores are disappearing, and the 244-year old Encyclopedia Britannica is no longer printed. It is very likely that in the next few decades, children will ask why the word newspaper contains the word paper in much the same way as our children today ask why the media is still referred to as the press.
  • The age of digital business is drawing near, as seen by our commercial dependence on networks for production and operations. Network developments have significant influence on business activities. Which business today can even continue to operate if its network fails? E-commerce is booming and extending its reach into every consumer buying decision, whether involving digital content (e-books and digital music), cars, or home appliances, or even small items like snacks and slippers. In 2012 alone, electronic retail sales worldwide totaled US$1.1 trillion. Information technologies will be further applied to enterprise production and operations. Rather than being tools or support components, ICT will become integral to production, decision-making, customer relationship management, service provisioning, marketing, and logistics. ICT will be employed in the building of end-to-end systems that work in real time, playing a role in each and every link, from idea generation to product conceptualization to precision marketing to efficient operations to on-time delivery. In other words, digitization will become a key characteristic of the future enterprise.
  • A borderless Internet gives rise to a digital society. Thanks to the boundary-free nature of the Internet, a large number of borderless virtual communities and societies have come into being. A plethora of these communities will combine to form a digital society that transcends borders, cultures, and races. Facebook is home to over one billion users (or netizens), making it the third largest "citizenry" in the world. This type of digital society, which mirrors while extending beyond the physical world, will undoubtedly impact many aspects of social administration and transformation, including politics, economy, law, culture, news & media, security, and ethics, among others.

As a communications tool and support system, information technologies have significantly changed the way in which people live and work over the past few decades. They also spawn new economies and industries while reshuffling traditional ones. No doubt, the increasing integration of the physical and digital worlds will have a more tremendous impact on society. Such integration will direct ICT development in a way that can better serve society.

2.        Smart infrastructure presents opportunities for further ICT development.

Technologically-speaking, ICT innovations mainly fall into five groups: mobility, broadband interconnectivity, social networking, cloud computing, and big data processing. The objective of these innovations is to transform the physical world into a smart world underpinned by smart ICT infrastructure, making the latter key to advancing information-based development.

  • From big data to "big" wisdom, the IT systems of carriers and enterprises are evolving from post-processing support systems to real-time business systems. This transition marks a fundamental change in how IT functions. We are living in what may be the "big bang" of information. In 2012, up to 2.4 zettabytes of data (that's 2.4 billion terabytes) was generated globally; it would take as many as three trillion DVDs to store all this data. By 2020, the amount of data generated is expected to grow fourteen-fold. This data will have two major sources. The first is from the huge amount of transactions between enterprises and between enterprises and consumers. The second is from countless interactions on the Internet, social networks, enterprise service networks, and the Internet of Things. Social networking will be particularly pervasive; it will be emblematic of all applications, not just for social networking utilities like Facebook. Typically, big data has four characteristics: variety, volume, velocity, and value. Velocity and value are most important. By combining the analytical capabilities of the human brain to determine behavioral patterns and the data processing capabilities of computers, we can quickly analyze big data and leverage digital assets to develop valuable diagrams that show relationships, intentions, consumption patterns, interests, and mobility. From big data to "big" wisdom, IT systems will be capable of understanding not only the present preferences of customers but also their future tendencies. This will make social administration, corporate decision-making, and individual lifestyles smarter and more logical. Therefore, IT systems for both enterprises and carriers shall no longer function as post-processing support systems. Rather, they will become real-time business systems that facilitate business operations, a transition that marks a fundamental change in IT.
  • As traditional IT enterprise architecture is no longer capable of processing the huge volumes of data being encountered, an Internet-oriented cloud computing architecture is needed. The rebuilding of data centers will prove the basis of supporting big data. Over the past two decades, most enterprises have applied client-server architecture for their IT. Although these systems were constantly upgraded, their technical architecture was not, making each upgrade repetitive and not transformative. With client-server, the server primarily stores small volumes of enterprise transaction data, leaving most data scattered across employee PCs (clients). As Internet technologies have continued to develop, data has begun its migration from the PC to the cloud, causing a sharp spike in data volume for the latter. The need to store such vast volumes is exactly what is driving innovations in computing and storage architectures, and giving rise to the emergence of cloud computing architectures that feature virtualization, parallel computing, distributed storage, and automation, making for a dramatic change over the traditional architectures. In fact, this new push is considered the third major wave of IT transformation after those related to the mainframe and client/server architecture. Presently, traditional enterprise IT architectures are no longer capable of processing the voluminous amounts of data that they take in. To answer this need, an Internet-oriented cloud computing architecture is required. This architecture will form the basis of both big data and "big" wisdom.
  • Low-bandwidth networks are hindering information-based development and user experience improvement. A ubiquitous Gigabit network is a prerequisite for any digital society. To lay the foundation for a Terabit-network society, next-gen research is needed. As public and private clouds develop, the amount of data they carry is sure to mushroom, as the analysis of data is more effective when its storage is centralized. To drive this migration, ubiquitous networking with greater bandwidth is required to support data upload and data usage. Ubiquitous broadband makes cloud computing accessible. Devices across the entire industry chain, including content creation devices (video cameras), cloud computing devices that process information, and terminals where information is generated and consumed (PCs, tablets, etc.) all now support high-definition video, even smartphones that cost only US$150. However, the global network, which has an average bandwidth of only 3.1Mbps, is still unable to support high-definition video, leading to the aforementioned hindrances to user experience. Therefore, we must accelerate the construction of Gigabit networks to enable seamless ultra-broadband access, the basis for building a digital society. We must also intensify our research into and innovation efforts for technologies such as next-generation mobile access, next-generation digital subscriber line (DSL) access, passive optical network (PON) access, next-generation Internet, and all-optical networking (AON). This focus on future networks will lay a solid foundation for building a Terabit-network society.
  • To support evolution from a "hard" pipe to a "soft" pipe, we should develop programmable, scalable, application-agile, automatic, and open intelligent networks. Software-defined networking (SDN) will lead to the development of next-gen network architectures. Technologies are enablers of network development. In the past two decades, driven by advancements of technologies from time-division multiplexing (TDM) towards all-IP, networks have undergone three different revolutions: analog to digital, fixed to mobile, and narrowband to broadband. At present, All-IP networks are undeniably the mainstay for telco and enterprise networks. However, as networks grow, with information flowing in and out in uncertain directions and technologies being upgraded rapidly, it is important that networks be flexible, intelligent, scalable, and automated. Equally important is a change in how we think about network architectural design. The core concepts for cloud computing development, such as virtualization, software decoupling from hardware, centralized resource pool scheduling, automatic deployment, high scalability, and on-demand service provisioning, provide valuable references for network development. Introduction of these concepts into the design of network architectures and products can form the concepts of SDN, including forwarding and control element separation (FORces) to centralize network control and resource scheduling, software decoupling from hardware to virtualize network functions, network function development of cloud-based architecture to realize automatic deployment and high scalability, and application-aware network development to improve network capabilities, among others. By adopting these concepts, we can lead the developments of next-generation product architectures and network architectures, establish an intelligent application-aware network that can intelligently schedule traffic, improve user experience and network utilization, support traffic-based operations, and generate new revenue streams.
  • Intelligent terminals will not just be tools for communications; they will become extensions of our own senses. Terminals of the future will be context-aware and have intelligent sensory capabilities. What makes a terminal intelligent is far more than just its CPUs and operating system - It also relates to its sensory capabilities. By using various sensors (compasses, accelerators, gyroscopes, barometers, global positioning systems, light sensors, microphones, cameras, touch screens, temperature sensors, and infrared instruments), we can extend the human sensory and nervous systems in the form of intelligent terminals,  bringing us one-step away from true brain-machine interaction. These intelligent terminals will be context-aware, and able to both sense and predict behavior through features such as auto-completion. By combining cloud-based big data analysis capabilities with context-aware terminals, we can provide personalized and intelligent services that realize true human-machine interaction, enabling a dramatic improvement in the user experience.

To respond to the ICT transformation being driven by the integration of the physical world and digital worlds, Huawei has developed a pipe strategy that covers cloud-based data center infrastructure (used for information storage and processing), infrastructure networks (used for information transmission and delivery), and intelligent terminals (used for information creation and consumption). Huawei has also set up its 2012 Laboratories, dedicated to researching next-generation technologies, while developing a SoftCOM (Software Defined Network + teleCOM) network architecture development strategy. Huawei will openly partner with industry peers to raise our information society to a new level.


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