Using Google is currently prohibited in China. A device in China cannot use Google’s search engine, access Google Maps, Gmail, or Google Drive. To provide a bit of context, because sometimes we forget the scale of things, Google services are illegal for about one in every five people on the planet.
The United States seems quite determined to start a war on Huawei, the telecommunications giant that is conquering the western cell phone network from China. Once again, it’s helpful to point out one detail: what Huawei is conquering, where it is in the big leagues (perhaps the biggest league) is the modern “telephone market.” That is to say, I’m not referring to telephone devices, where it is a big player, one of many in the big leagues, but rather where it is truly strong is in the terminals that give those telephone devices service, making them able to send and receive data and, every once in a while, a phone call.
In 2011, the UN listed Internet access as a human right. Once again, I should note: access to information is not a minor issue for the UN, i.e., for its Member States, for all the states in the world.
The three paragraphs above outline a difficult syllogism. One fifth of the world’s population on the one hand, the remaining four-fifths on the other, but it seems like everyone is going to have a very difficult time benefiting from our rights normally.
It helps to wonder, what would happen in a world without telecommunications? If we got rid of Google, Huawei, all wireless data transmission services, how would society as we know it change? Sometimes, an NGO suggests we spend a day without using the car, an hour with the lights turned off, and other similar actions so we will be made aware of what we take for granted with incredible ease. So, what about imaging a world without Internet, without data connections, without smartphones? In fact, if you’re over 30, you only have to think back to your childhood and superimpose that over your life today.
Isn’t it a very different world?
Continuing with this analogy, you can try to project it into the immediate future. If there were a sudden digital blackout, many of the projects that everyone is talking about would become impossible and, therefore, the immediate and distant future would be entirely different.
Here are a few examples of these consequences:
- Internet of Things (IoT): objects connected to the Internet that share information between one another and with people and, thanks to said data, can adjust their operations. For example, the heating system in my home turns on when my phone gets close to it. It’s not exactly as the manufacturer’s ads put it when they ensure that the heat turns on when “I’m close by.” It’s actually when my phone is close by (which is highly likely to indicate my own proximity). This is just one modern example of many and the many more that will arise in the immediate future. So, without a connection, without telecommunications, all of this would be gone before ever arising.
- Industry 4.0: Automated factories, where different production and distribution chain modules connect with other modules to optimize factory operations. For example, a conveyor belt for recently manufactured products can alert the conveyor belt that starts the process that it needs to go slower because there has been a problem with the trucks that are supposed to distribute the goods. Thus, overproduction and storage costs, which never favor the end consumer and only make the manufacturing process more expensive, are avoided. Gone before ever arising.
- Connected car. A lot of people talk about self-driving cars as if they were an imminent reality. I agree, but self-driving cars aren’t just cars. In order for everything to work properly, this self-driving car will most certainly be connected to the other traffic elements: it will know where the stoplights are, where the pedestrians are, it will communicate with the other vehicles on the road it’s going to turn on, or before it brakes, etc. Each car will connect with all the other cars and all the other elements on the street. Gone before ever arising.
- Mobile apps that use geolocation. Satellites and devices communicate, but would this be possible without telecommunications? Of course not. They’d be gone very quickly.
- The weather forecast on your phone, functions like find my phone, remote controls, home automation, applications that track your steps, your run, how many calories you’ve burned… Gone.
- Telemedicine, remote transactions, impossible without data.
The world is as we know it largely because sensors and actuators generate signals that telecommunications systems engineers have been able to process and transmit from the place where they are produced to wherever they are managed and used.
The world will be as we’ve imagined it only if telecommunications are developed as telecommunications engineers, computer engineers, and biomedical engineers, among others, know they can be developed. We have the right to a connected world. It helps to remember that.