By Sara Downey, thought leadership, Dell Technologies
In more ways than one, the world relies on connectivity. Without consistent connectivity, people can’t work anytime, anywhere. Without connectivity, businesses can’t automate manual tasks and free employees to do more strategic work. And without connectivity, society can’t harness technological innovation to spur economic growth.
John Roese, global chief technology officer at Dell Technologies, recently spoke at MerITocracy 2022. He cautioned against underestimating the foundational importance of connectivity as it’s the fabric for the entire digital experience.
The promise of greater connectivity gives businesses hope. According to Dell Technologies’ Breakthrough study (that surveyed 10,500 respondents from 40+ countries), 83% of global workers believe that in a better-connected, world they’d finally be able to scale to any opportunity.
However, that opportunity must be available to all. Uneven access to connectivity would deepen the digital divide. Presently, more than half fear they would be left behind because they won’t have access to the right tools to achieve hyper-speed. Below, an abridged version of Meritalk’s conversation with Roese.
“Advanced connectivity is critical. We (the United States) are strong in robotics, AI, quantum computing, digital, and we are quite healthy in the cloud and IT ecosystem. But all of these rely on advanced connectivity to work well, and right now, we don’t have a U.S.-based offering for that, which is a significant strategic gap compared to other countries.”
–John Roese, global chief technology officer, Dell Technologies
What are the long-term consequences of not ensuring every American has reliable internet access?
Roese: Advanced connectivity is a foundational technology. If you look at the evolution of telehealth, education, manufacturing or just people going to work or school in remote environments, all of that relies on advanced connectivity—and not just what we have today, but what we could have in the future with the advent of 5G and 6G. Without advanced connectivity, it’s difficult to envision a successful digital transformation of any industry, vertical or entity, including government. But there are almost no U.S.-based sources to supply this technology. Everyone needs reliable connectivity so that industries can continue advancing, and people can do any task they desire.
To fill internet access gaps, Congress and the White House included broadband access for every American in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Does the law go far enough to deliver on this promise and to support other opportunities to power our economy?
When we talk about wireless and advanced broadband connectivity, we must address supply and demand. The infrastructure bill addresses the demand side extremely well. It created economic incentives for consumption of broadband connectivity, which catalyzes industries. However, it didn’t address the supply side—and there just aren’t enough suppliers to meet the demand created by the bill.
More importantly, the wireless industry is anemic compared to other technology areas like cloud and even quantum computing. The good news is that both industry and government recognize the problem and are addressing it. Bills are making their way through Congress that provide government support for building a modern U.S. telecom industry in the wireless space, which will help to alleviate the supply problem and rebuild America’s leadership position. This isn’t just a government problem to solve, though. Public-private partnerships between government and industry will help align the supply side with the demand side to deliver on the promises made in the infrastructure bill.
Putting something into law is one thing. Implementing it is quite another. What needs to happen to successfully implement the infrastructure law?
First, we have to decide how to spend the money. Do we use the money to pull U.S. companies into this space and create new environments, which could mean spending on legacy-free architectures, or do we arbitrarily specify wireless technology with the assumption that the supply side will catch up and legacy issues will be addressed later?
For example—building out wireless on tribal lands. That’s great, but those program requirements could include 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G technology. U.S. companies won’t deliver 2G, 3G and possibly even 4G connectivity, so those requirements won’t do anything to catalyze the supply side in the United States.
On the other hand, specialized programs like delivering advanced data services to tribal lands, which can be done with modern O-RAN 5G, would allow U.S. companies and the U.S. ecosystem to engage and innovate to meet current needs while growing supply and laying the foundation for future innovation. The good news is that there is nothing in the law that prohibits this, and people are open to this idea.
[Also], we need to connect policy to technology ecosystems in a more intelligent way. For instance, policies around AI and data privacy are at odds today. We encourage AI development but discourage sharing of data—yet anonymized data is required for training infrastructure. Let’s tie those two policies together to achieve mutual goals—protection of personally identifiable information and advancement of AI—as opposed to different agencies working on each.
What happens if we don’t invest now in our digital infrastructure and advanced technologies?
Let’s use the wireless industry as an example of what happens if you don’t continue to invest in technology. More than a decade ago, wireless companies Lucent, Motorola and Nortel pulled out of North America, marking the beginning of a slow decline in our wireless talent base. Today, people who do have a strong understanding of wireless technology are getting older. In fact, if we don’t rebuild the wireless industry in the U.S., we probably have a decade before we lose that institutional knowledge in this country. That’s incredibly important to think about. Technology is not a moment in time; it’s the evolution of what you did last to make it better. We can’t afford to let that happen in other technology areas. In wireless, China is way ahead, and we are now playing catch-up. I think we will fix this issue, but it should serve as a cautionary tale for what happens if we don’t continue to make investments in our digital infrastructure.