Mobile World Congress 2017 and climbing


For anyone who explores a little on this site you'll see that my hobby/lifestyle/sport outside of my career (which encapsulates Technology and Education) is the sport of rock climbing. And what I'm going to do in this little essay is align my hobby/sport and my interest in technology in one post. Bear with me.....

Let me start at the beginning. When you think of 'rock climbing' or 'mountaineering' right now, what springs to mind for most people will be scaling a sheer face or a massive mountain in the outdoors in some extreme situation. And when we go back and look at early 'climbing/mountaineering', we find images such as the one above from 1874 as an early incarnation of what we know now from seeing in movies like Mission Impossible, Cliffhanger, and numerous documentaries found on tv. We see that it started in the mid-18th century with the Victorian elite, steadily expanding from the hills to the big mountains to multiple other disciplines such as vertical or massive, steep rock faces (see right).

The key piece from all this is that since the 1700's and through until early 21st century, climbing largely revolved around the 'traditional' aspect of climbing on real rock in the outdoors.

However, first tested in the 1930's before really starting to go mainstream in the 1990's, a different form of climbing was to appear: the idea of the indoor climbing wall/gym. Widely dismissed as a 'fad', 'not the real thing', and dismissed by the stalwarts for not providing the same quality of experience, things are now at the point where Sport England is showing that there are now a significantly larger number of people who climb indoors over outdoors, and the same number of adults participate twice a month in rock climbing as play football(!). And the key piece of this, is that this number is only going to continue in that direction. The old, well honed and understood discipline of outdoor climbing is going to be here indefinitely going forward, but the future of most participants due to its ease of access, bringing communities together, and, well I'll have to admit it - less hardship (you try standing on the side of a rock face or mountain in sub-zero jackets in a light jacket!).



When Climbing and Telecoms align

Why do I say all this? Because, interestingly, both my sport and my work industry timelines largely line up in their creation and transition they are both undergoing right now. Telecoms was invented in the early 1800's with the telegraph, before having its key addition with the first telephone call in 1876 (the images at the top of this post coincidently only two years apart). Like in climbing, over the next 130-170 odd years, the discipline evolved but was largely familiar to what it started out as (the major difference being the cutting of the cord with mobile telephony). In both climbing circles and telecoms, all was well providing excellent returns (financial and adventure) to all involved.

Until, of course, another new method of communications came along. And 28 years ago, Tim-Berners Lee took the work that had been started in the 1930's (see how that coincides with the first experiments in indoor climbing gyms also?) before inventing the World-Wide Web in 1989, 28 years ago. 

And as it has evidently turned out, the Internet is consuming everything related to news, media and, of course, telecommunications. In my own eyes, as someone who joined the www in 1995 as a wide-eyed teenager, it has been evident even since then that this was something new, accessible, bringing communities together, and as we near its 3rd decade, less hardship in joining. See how I joined this final comment in with indoor climbing gyms traits?


Mobile World Congress 2017

Coming around to MWC 2017, it's always interesting seeing Mobile World Congress from afar, having never attended the event in all the various years I've been in the Telecoms world (gaps included). As ever, every 3-5 years the numbers before the 'G' gets changed either incrementally (2G, 3G, 4G, etc.) or in baby steps (2.5G, 4.G, etc.). But all in essence are moving towards an eventual outcome, where everything is bits on a network. There'll be much (much!) smarter people than myself writing about the technicalities of the different technologies, and the challenges in improving all the technologies but it's evident by now that, at some point in time, there will be network access anywhere, any time. How we get there of course is unknown (Softbank amongst others such as SpaceX thinks that it'll also include satellites, and Facebook and Google experiment with drones or balloons - all along the 'traditional' wired and wireless communications) and how long it will take to get there, but it will happen - leaving the surreal event where it's likely that the first thing that everyone on the planet will have is a network connection, even if they don't have access to drinking water (or even steady electricity?! although, that may also be mitigated by the arrival of widespread renewal, such as this example in Mongolia).

It's also worth keeping in mind that as ever, "what's amazing about tech is it's very hard to predict" (Netflix's CEO, Reed Hastings made that comment at his keynote) so what we'll use that network for is still up to be understood: it's already obvious that it will consume all methods of telecommunication connecting people essentially everywhere on the planet (and in orbit!) as well as all forms of entertainment.

The other key piece to come from the the Internet is its current upending of existing societal norms that have existed for at least a few centuries, if not longer. Probably the most recent equivalent upheaval was the invention of the printing press which pulled the power from the Church and into the hands of the cities. What will the Internet do? Well, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has posted a 5,700 long missive on 'building a global community' and if you take it at face value, it reads like the formation of a global.....government? I don't really know how to take it, but I do know that when almost a third of the planet (and growing) is on one single platform, it enables some new forms of, well, something. Let's wait and see how this one plays out.

Going back to the Netflix keynote, it says a lot that I felt this gave me the most interesting insights of all, and it was coming from a platform, Netflix, that sits on the top of the network. Netflix highlighted the amazing work they're doing on improving bandwidth usage (applying some interesting Machine Learning tricks to each frame of a movie/show to reduce the bandwidth) and thus benefiting both the customers and telco's networks. Whereas, Nokia, a long-time Telecom company came out and showed us......remote control monster trucks driving through a symbolic '5G' wall? I wonder if my thoughts will change in the coming weeks, but it really felt like the most usable items right now are coming from FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) - those sitting on the network, and also now building some serious top-tier networks of their own.

Speaking of which, and FANG, an interesting week! Amazon has a monster outage, and takes a ton of major websites across the Internet with dependencies on Amazon's cloud service. Oops. Reminds me a bit of the telecoms companies in the late 90's and early 00's with some of their chucked-together mobile infrastructure.... And then Facebook and Google decided to drop their little bombshells (not announced at MWC though): Facebook building the fibre infrastructure in Uganda (good way to build your skills and knowledge on a cheaper country as well as enable a country on the upswing) as well as pumping $170 million into a start-up fund, and Google announcing they are "partnering on the next generation of mobile networks". hmm - is it time to be concerned that none of the major Telecoms operators own any of the tech, purchasing everything from the base stations to the databases to the charging systems to the call centre software from external vendors - with the notable, visible, exception of AT&T who are pushing hard on the software bandwagon right now.


20 years: you're getting into some serious A.I.
will we be "entertaining you, or entertaining A.I's"?




Interested in the challenges affecting the climbing governing bodies due to change? Read this excellent blog post from John Roberts here.


Neal McQuaid