By Dr. Bernard HL Lee
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s has given me the opportunity to experience the evolution phase in humankind that we got to know as ‘digitalization’. I vaguely remember the first computer screen being a CRT monitor with a green text interface, and 5” floppy disks that, in today’s world, could not even fit a single digital photo. In the past 40 years, I have had the privilege to witness, and the opportunity to experience, the golden age of digitalization; and, even more fortunate, to be a part of it!
However, in the past 4 decades, we had not seen the kind of acceleration in digitalization as all of us had to experience in the past 400 days since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The notion of teleconferencing, e-learning, online shopping and even e-banking, was still very much a ‘futuristic’ concept until the end of 2019; however, with the pandemic disruption of 2020, these concepts became very much a part of the ‘new normal’ in both, our personal and professional lives. We were forced overnight to work from home 5 days a week, while our kids attended school virtually. In fact, COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of such digital transformation by 3 to 4 years for all sectors globally, perhaps even more in some less developed countries.
How impactful has been this accelerated adoption of a new ‘digital’ lifestyle to the telecom and datacom industry? Some would say, it was like a tsunami!
Everywhere in the world, greater use of digital wallets and hands-free retail checkouts were encouraged to avoid physical contact –which is the main means of infection. Every region of the globe also experienced widespread use of teleconferencing with friends and family as a means of social and emotional interaction. This may have been the tipping point to the demise of print newspapers and brick-and-mortar retailers/malls.
Before the pandemic, digital transformation was something many had chosen to resist, or even worse, ignore. Like the infamous Borg phrase from Star Trek says “Resistance is Futile”, so is Digital Transformation Inevitable! as it is part of human evolution and has become more evident due to the pandemic. In any evolution process, the survivors are the ones that can adapt to change; while many businesses have suffered due to the pandemic, there are some that have not only survived this ´tsunami´, but are flourishing due to the ´new normal´ lifestyle.
With the demand for digitalization, Cloud Providers have been heavily investing to upgrade their infrastructure to provide the best possible level of service to their exponentially growing customer demand. Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), which serve as the inner workings of cloud technology, have experienced a ‘nitrous boost’ moment with the accelerated demand. Technology roadmaps of the optical industry were brought forward by several years. The adoption of 200Gbps and 400Gbps Optics by Cloud Providers was initially scheduled to take off in late 2022 or early 2023; however, they are already being deployed today, well ahead of what was initially forecasted. As such, the industry is fast adopting the next generation of optical interconnects based on the IEEE 802.3bs transmission standard for connectors, which were designed to be the solution for 200Gbps, 400Gbps, and beyond. As we adopt the current generation, the industry is already working on the next phase of the optical roadmap; such as, the development of the 800Gbps optics—on-board optics that brings the optical links into the realm which were traditionally copper interconnects and even the adoption of photonics in the ASIC chip design (i.e., Photonic Integrated Chip–PIC).
As the world slowly adapts to the “new normal” set forth by the COVID-19 Tsunami, the wake of its effect will forever be a part of our lives and the history of humankind. No doubt that the last 400 days will leave an everlasting ‘scar’ in our minds, but it will also serve as the seed of innovation.
Dr. Bernard HL Lee is currently the Director of Technology & Innovation at SENKO Advanced Components and previously he was the Assistant General Manager at Group Business Strategy Division in Telekom Malaysia. Bernard is an expert at the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), a Chartered Engineer accredited by the British Engineering Council and a BICSI Registered Communications Distributions Designer (RCDD). He was formerly the President of the Fiber-To-The-Home Council APAC and currently the Country Chair for BICSI Malaysia.