Author: Yogi SchulzCommunication technology has advanced rapidly from the telegraph of yesteryear to the telephone, e-mail and television of today. What will tomorrow bring? We’re closing in on science fiction predictions.

Dick Tracy, the comic book detective, owned a futuristic two-way radio wristwatch. It has been surpassed by even smaller and more capable communication devices like the video camera tie clip.

We haven’t yet developed small devices with the range of Captain Kirk’s communicator on StarTrek. However, today’s flip cell phones do offer the other capabilities of their sci-fi predecessor.

The Jetsons, in the sci-fi television series, communicated via personal video combined with a heads-up display like jet fighter pilots use today. While we don’t yet commonly take this approach, we have developed all the required technologies.

How will the communication devices that we use regularly, without giving it a second thought, evolve and improve in the years ahead?

Smarter Phones

Our expectations of what telephones should be capable of doing have skyrocketed. No longer are we satisfied with dial tones and a personal telephone directory scribbled onto a sheet of paper stuck to the wall by the phone.

Today many of us expect a telephone to incorporate a personal digital assistant (PDA). Good examples include the BlackBerry and the Treo. These phones also handle e-mail, a large contact list and a personal schedule. Some of us expect to take pictures and to enjoy interactive games using our phones. We also want clear reception and no dropped calls. Unfortunately, that desire will take a while longer to realize.

In the near future, we’ll see more implementations of Bluetooth, a short-range networking technology. BlueTooth enables a nearby store to beep our phone and display a new product picture or describe a special offer. BlueTooth can also beep us and display a friend’s name, who is in the immediate vicinity, from our contact list.

So far, the adoption of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) is barely noticeable. VOIP allows the Internet and private networks to carry voice calls in addition to computer-to-computer communication. When VOIP is deployed more widely, it will radically change the near-monopoly business models of the telephone carriers as customers are offered more choices for telecommunication services.

Further out, we’ll see more integration of the Global Positioning System (GPS) into telephones. GPS makes it possible to precisely locate us like OnStar does for automobiles. Concerns about lack of privacy may slow adoption of GPS in phones.

Bolder Television

We have higher expectations of what television should deliver. A 32 inch screen, Picture-in-Picture and SurroundSound together with a vast selection of channels of diverse programming no longer satisfy the desires of many.

Now we expect a large flat screen or the wall-size screen of a home theatre projection system.

Soon most television broadcasts will deliver the enhanced picture quality of High-Definition TeleVision (HDTV). Many homes will contain a Personal Video Recorder (PVR). PVRs record shows for viewing at a more convenient date and time. Because PVRs make it easy to skip through commercials, the business model for television broadcasting will be turned on its head. Stay tuned for more product placements in the show. Julia Roberts fans will remember the prominent role of the Fedex truck in Runaway Bride and the RangeRover close-up in Step Mom.

Further into the future, we’ll see holographic projection systems that produce realistic 3-D movie images that swirl about our home theatres or bedrooms without a screen. We saw an example of this technology when R2D2 delivered a holographic message to Princess Leia Organa in the movie Star Wars. Closer to home, we’ve enjoyed 3-D technology in the Discovery Dome theatre at the Calgary Science Centre. With today’s technology, showing 3-D effects requires an investment of millions of dollars for high-intensity projectors and specially-produced content. Today we also require the audience to wear stereoscopic goggles. In time, this 3-D technology will become widely available at a price point that many of us can afford. We’ll also be able to ditch the goggles.

More Accessible E-mail

We are conjuring up new expectations about what e-mail can do for us. E-mail has already wiped out the letter as a common form of communication and reduced the number of telephone calls we make. Very soon, the annoyance and productivity drain that e-mail spam generates will fade into a bad memory.

Tomorrow, we’ll be able to send and receive wireless e-mail on higher bandwidth cell phone networks and on linked HotSpots faster and more reliably. HotSpots are high-speed wireless networks with a range of about 50 meters. Larger attachments will cease to present difficulties. We’ll use a wider variety of devices beyond our PDA and our personal computer. Such devices will include wired telephones, televisions and kiosks that look much like pay phones.

Later, we’ll be able to forward our e-mail to our cell phone and have it read to us. Blind persons already use this technology on their personal computers. Voice synthesis will be preferable to increasing the size of the cell phone screen and adding to its weight.

Further into the future, a tiny projection system, that is integrated into our glasses and linked to a wearable personal computer, will enable us to stay in touch easily wherever we are.


This prediction of future developments in communication technology can easily be overtaken by unexpected breakthroughs achieved in surprising places. Who would have thought that e-mail would wipe out faxes, reduce the overnight courier volume and change our telephone habits?

Personal ComputersPersonal computers have rocketed up in performance and capability. Memory is no longer a constraint. Screens are larger with crisper pictures. Disk drives are cheaper and hold vast amounts of information.

Today’s personal computer is significantly more powerful and cheaper than even last year’s model. It also crashes less often and it’s easier to perform basic maintenance and software update tasks. It handles graphic and audio files with ease. Some models also store and manipulate video with ease.

Tomorrow will bring thinner and lighter laptops without loss functionality or performance. Flat screens that can be rolled up for ease of storage or transportation will replace LCDs. We’ll see keyboards that are just images on the work surface.

High Availability Servers

Smarter NetworksDynamically re-configurable networks

Media ConvergenceThe expected convergence of televisions, telephones and personal computers has received a lot of attention for many years now. Mostly, it appears we are making progress in baby steps. For example, the integration of the personal computer with the television set has been attempted several times and met with miserable failure. Remember the early versions of WebTV? Perhaps its latest incarnation as MSN TV will finally catch on in hotels and homes.

Tomorrow media convergence is likely to deliver a long-sought goal, the delivery of video to the home on demand. The huge network capacity demands of video, even when compressed, has slowed the dreams of many entrepreneurs who’ve tried to deliver movies on demand.