Communications is my thing. Eighteen years of building gadgets that allow all kinds of deviant devices to talk. It doesn’t stop at just bits and bytes, I like to write too. Personality tests (don’t ask) place me towards the extrovert side of the scale - so I like to communicate. Interestingly not many years ago that meant that I liked to talk, but lately I’ve found that what I really like to do is listen.
I’ve been pondering some startling communications trends a lot over the last few weeks. Follow me down the rabbit hole for a moment.
In the 80’s, we wrote or typed our information. Licked a stamp, addressed an envelope. Dropped it in the mailbox and waited one to two weeks for a prompt reply. Very quaint.
In the 90’s, email blossomed beyond scientists and students to a viable method for not only business communications, but personal as well. Messages were delivered in seconds. And every so often we’d even get an email from an unknown sender offering to sell us something.
By 2000, cell phones were on their path to ubiquity. If you worked in sales or were a teen you had to have one. The stereotypical introverted engineer found them to be technical marvels with little practical use as frankly, more conversations with more people was not our idea of progress.
But by 2005 resistance was futile and even the most introverted Dilbert engineer had a cell phone…and had likely dropped the “land line,” carefully packing away his old AT&T phone with his 8 track.
By 2007 a new paradigm evolved. While everyone on the planet had a cell phone, the only people that actually talked on them were born before 1985 (ouch…I know, that hurts).
Folks, we’re not just talking about rapid change, we’re talking about a large and growing acceleration factor combined with a reduction in inertia. I wouldn’t want to program a PID loop on this one.
Mr. Ethernet, Bob Metcalfe stated that the value of a network is proportionate to the square of the number of users in Metcalfe’s Law. (If true, it’s possible that 13 to 16 year olds are on the brink of world domination).
So where are we today?
- Email is for old people (the irony isn’t lost on me here).
- Businesses are full of old people so email is still used. This will change.
- The last documented case of a teen being yelled at for tying up a “phone line” was nearly a decade ago.
- Next generation workers have been trained in a 21st century version of shorthand, able to accomplish all communications in 140 characters or less.
- Previous generations of engineers grew up without the web. The next generation of engineers grew up with instant access to hundreds or thousands of lifelines, all reachable within seconds, 140 bytes at a time. This will evolve into the most powerful network we’ve ever known.
What does this mean to you and me? What does it mean for our equipment, our systems? I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this, both philosophical and some practical.
The rate of change of human communications is dramatically outpacing automation systems. Products and systems need to pick up the pace. A tidal wave of increased expectations for communication systems is coming. Which edge of the wave are you on? Here at B&B we’re paddling towards the crest, but it’s moving fast and we’re not there yet, much more pizza and coffee will be needed.
Sure you’ve seen lots of new stuff from the depths of the B&B engineering labs lately, stuff like:
New Ethernet Serial Servers – including tons of fiber optic options
A tail-kicking Modbus Gateway family that can solve most any Modbus conversion challenge you’ve seen
Wireless Modbus I/O – seamless integration of remote I/O into your Modbus map
Build-to-order Ethernet Switches – with each port configured just the way you need it
Gigabit Ethernet Switches – support your high-bandwidth security devices and automation needs on the same network
Eliminate pesky power cables to cameras, access points and other Ethernet devices with our new Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) Switches
IP65, wide temp WiFi Access Point ready for industrial 802.11 applications
And bunches more. It’s all good stuff with more to come. But start exercising your neurons now, because there is a next generation of products coming down the pipeline that will go beyond simply being a rugged and reliable data pipeline.
Talk back to me. What is it that you’d like to see out of your next generation communication systems? Getting data from point A to B is old school and will fall far short of expectations of up and coming engineers from the Net generation.