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Telecommunication systems of tomorrow.

Telecommunication Systems of Tomorrow

Look for changes in the workplace, for greater access to information, and for global networks

"Knowledge is power," we learned from the ancient Greeks. More recently, someone stated that "as a general rule, the most successful man in life is he who has access to the best information." In today's society, a significant amount of information exists in electronic form that is stored in computer-readable media. Furthermore, this information resides at many geographically-dispersed locations, perhaps, around the world.

Accessing this information requires having in place an up-to-date electronic data transportation system. This conveyance system is called a "telecommunications system" or a "communications network." A communications network may interconnect hundreds or even thousands of computers, workstations, and other electronic devices such as FAX machines, telephones, etc., over a wide geographical area. Internationally and specifically in the U.S., there are some emerging trends which necessitate that state-of-the-art communication infrastructures be in place.

Need for Improvements in Professional Productivity. In this century, we have seen unprecedented advantages in the productivity of manufacturing-based jobs through automation. The U.S. economy is becoming increasingly service based. This trend will probably continue into the foreseeable future. To be competitive, service industries will require significant increases in professional productivity. Today, many professionals resist the lure of electronic gadgetry that could make them more productive

Globalization of Business. The formation of the European Community Market and the increased competition from Pacific Rim countries, notably Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, have forced many American firms to internationalize their operations quickly. The distinction between domestic and international is dissolving. While the concept of a world government has failed, the growth of large multinational corporations has fueled our increasing dependence on each other. The business requirements of these multinational corporations will drive many of the advances in communications.

Many of the problems hindering the advance of communication technology are political rather than technical. The increased cooperation between independent nations forced by the growth of international corporations will foster even greater demand for new standards and adherence to the standards already defined.

Changes in the Work Environment. Increasingly, work currently being done with paper is migrating to electronic media. At the present time, the annual decrease in the cost of technology is 20% and the increase in labor cost is 10%. This means that if the technology required to implement an automated solution costs three times as much as the manual solution, the break-even point is reached in four years. Furthermore, many workers are "telecommuting," that is, working from home via computers and telecommunication systems.


The following are some of the emerging telecommunication technologies that show promise for shaping the future:

Optical Fiber. Optical fiber shows the most promise for delivering the speed and bandwidth required for communications in the future. Fiber communication has advantages that enhance the capacity, quality, and efficiency of a network. Fiber optics is lighter, thinner, and more flexible than copper. It is almost 100% reliable and does not radiate information that can be intercepted, meaning it is virtually impossible to tap.

Integrated Services Digital Network. ISDN promises a single network capable of carrying voice, data, and video transmissions. However, few firms understand this technology. Typically, the ISDN services provided by several carriers, including AT&T, are one and one-half to two times more expensive than an existing service. In addition, this service may not be available in some parts of the country.

X.400. The international messaging protocol X.400--a standard for linking diverse electronic mail systems (E-mail) --will allow users to send messages to E-mail subscribers beyond their own corporate boundaries as easily as sending an internal E-mail message. The success of X.400 has stemmed as much from politics as from technology. Its biggest advantage is that everyone has agreed to utilize it. These developments should allow businesses to forge tighter bonds with both suppliers and customers within their own countries as well as their overseas prospects.

X Windows. X Windows was developed at MIT to provide a generic method for disparate terminals and workstations to communicate over a network. The current version X.11 has been adopted as a standard by the suppliers of most Unix workstations and is currently available on a range of machines from PCs and Macintoshs to IBM and other mainframes. This standard allows a workstation to provide a graphic user interface to any number of host computers. This type of standard will allow network computing to provide the usability and functionality necessary to achieve its full potential.

Cooperative/Parallel Processing. The International Standards Organization is currently working on a transaction processing model which will allow one computer program to communicate with another program. This model is being expanded to allow processes to be run on idle workstations in the network. When a process needs assistance or can utilize additional processor resources in parallel, a request is made to the higher level network node for resources. This node queries all of its lower level nodes and returns a list of processors that have available capacity. The requesting processor can initiate jobs on the idle processors available at that time.

Another approach is seen in the Mach Kernel that has been adopted as the Unix standard. This operating system kernel inherently supports multi-processing. The multiple processors that it controls do not have to be on the same machine; they can be situated at various locations and networked together. This may provide a look at the future of operating systems. The Mach Kernel is the first commercial network operating system.


In the future, expect telecommunications and computers to be tightly bound to provide a class of applications we can only dream of now. Distributed, parallel processing applications will become commonplace. Computer applications will be smarter, have access to more diverse information, and be easier to use. Communications will evolve to where each home and office will provide connectivity to a global network that will allow access to information as quickly and easily as accessing the information on a local machine.

In a time of increasing cooperation between vendors and nations, communications interface issues will no longer be on the forefront. Applications and utility will become the primary issues in the near future. Computer usage will move more into an age of providing an essential utility service similar to the phone system. In fact, it may very well be that the current telephone system will provide the global networking and utility we are predicting. The real question will be whether we can adopt a method of equitably and fairly allowing access to information by the entire population in the next century. If not, this advancement will only aggravate the polarization between the rich and the poor.

Communication will become faster, more bandwidth will be available, and more standards will coalesce. Rather than developing networks to support autonomous functions, corporations will plan to develop cohesive networks supporting data, voice, and video transmissions between different computers. This rapid shift in direction is putting more responsibility for communications policy in the hands of the management information systems/data processing departments and telecommunications departments.

Dr. Nath is an associate professor of MIS and Quantitative Methods in the Department of Management Information Systems and Decision Sciences at Memphis State University. Mr. Schmitt is a senior technical advisor (Corporate Systems Development) with Federal Express Corporation in Memphis, Tennessee.
COPYRIGHT 1990 University of Memphis
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Nath, Ravinder; Schmitt, Larry
Publication:Business Perspectives
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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