Tech article: What’s after the Internet of Things? The Tactile Internet!

The Internet is a paradigm changer and went on to define the economies of the late 20th century.  However, after that Internet of connected computers became the Mobile Internet, connecting billions of smart phones and laptops, and yet again redefining entire segments of the economy in the first decade of the 21st century. Today, we witness the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), shortly to connect trillions of objects and starting to redefine yet again various economies of this decade.

These different embodiments of the current Internets will be dwarfed by the emergence of the Tactile Internet which we believe is a true paradigm shift, in which sufficiently responsive, reliable network connectivity will enable it to deliver physical, tactile experiences remotely. For example, imagine delivering (possibly self-assembling) hospital equipment to the current areas of West Africa suffering from the Ebola epidemic. The best doctors and surgeons could then perform diagnosis and even surgery remotely using connected, tactile technologies.

Because the Tactile Internet will be servicing really critical aspects of society, it will need to be ultra-reliable, maybe a second of outage per year, support very low latency and short end-to-end delays in the order of milliseconds – and have sufficient capacity to allow large numbers of devices to communicate with each other simultaneously and autonomously. It will be able to interconnect with the traditional wired internet, the mobile internet and the internet of things – thereby forming an internet of entirely new dimensions and capabilities.

We imagine the Tactile Internet will, in the business-to-business ecosystem, drive markets for autonomous cars, remote medical care markets, energy resource extraction and power generation, and other challenging industries. For consumers, it will revolutionize the way we teach, learn, and interact with our surroundings. A preliminary market analysis has revealed that the potential market could extend to US$20 trillion worldwide – around 20% of today’s worldwide GDP.

At the edges, the Tactile Internet will be enabled by the Internet of Things and actuating robots. Content and skillset data will be transmitted over a significantly more powerful 5G core network as well as the next generation Internet. The finite speed of light, however, will require a lot of the cloud intelligence to be enabled close at the edge, close to the tactile experience.

In contrast to the prior Internets which enabled content delivery, the Tactile Internet however will be an enabler for skillset delivery – thus a very timely technology for service and skillset driven economies like the ones predominantly found in Europe. In my capacity as Chair Professor in Wireless communications at King’s London, I am driving this pioneering initiative, along with numerous colleagues in the field.

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