TECH TALK: Tech Trends:Digital Convergence

Business Week sets the stage for the world of tomorrow:

For nearly two decades, industry sages have heralded the coming age of converging digital technology. But it remained an empty slogan. Now, thanks to faster chips, broader bandwidth, and a common Internet standard, technologies are quickly merging. The market for personal digital assistants, so hot in the late ’90s, is vanishing as customers get the same functions in a cell phone — often with a camera to boot. The latest televisions from Royal Philips Electronics and Sony have enough computing firepower to grab streaming video off the Net. “Convergence is finally really happening,” says Gottfried Dutin, an executive vice-president at Philips. “Digitalization is creating products that can’t be categorized as tech or consumer electronics. The walls are coming down.”

That sets up a collision of three massive industries. In one corner stands the $1.1 trillion computer and software biz, with its American leaders. In another is the $225 billion consumer-electronics sector, with its strong Asian roots and a host of aggressive new Chinese players. The third camp is the $2.2 trillion communications industry, a behemoth that extends from wireless powerhouses in Asia and Europe to the networking stars of Silicon Valley. All three groups will have a hand in building the digital wonders that are headed our way. But none of these industries, much less a single company, can put all the pieces together. They all need help. For this they venture into adjoining territories, where they forge new partnerships and take on new rivals.

The result is a Big Bang of convergence, and it’s likely to produce the biggest explosion of innovation since the dawn of the Internet.

As these technologies evolve over the next decade, a new digital world will emerge. Analysts predict that these nascent networks will speed up by an average of 50% a year, the historic norm. That will help the U.S. catch up over the next few years to where the Japanese and Koreans are today — with far faster broadband and mobile systems that are robust enough for commuters to check for traffic jams and watch soap operas on their cell phones. As networks grow and chips continue to strengthen, companies will work madly to come up with winning products and services. Within the next five years, industry analysts say, practically every machine in the wide realm of communications — every gadget that sings, talks, beams images, or messages — will sport a powerful computer and a network connection. And every bit of digital information, whether it’s a phone call, a song, a Web page, or a movie, will flow among these machines in the very same river of data.

By the end of this 10-year cycle, the change could be extreme. Web pages will snap to life. Hundreds of thousands of political bloggers, fly fishermen, chefs, and Oprah wannabes will be uploading gobs of video programming — creating their own channels. This plethora of Web shows will joust for attention with television fare, Internet radio, video e-mails, and games. All of it will play on televisions, computers, and cell phones, which will be different flavors of the same machine. “The concept of a network or a channel will go away,” says Jakob Nielsen, a partner at technology consultant Nielsen Norman Group in Fremont, Calif. “They’re artifacts of old technology.”

The networks now taking shape will link together more than 1 billion people, not just with words or voices, but with music, video, games, and commerce. A vast chunk of the world economy is going digital — and for the next few years it’s up for grabs. This revolution won’t quiet down anytime soon.

Think of the force of digitisation as the mother of all forces the underlying tectonic shift that is creating change everywhere. It has been with us through many years only now have all the various elements started to come together. For example, digital camera phones can convey pictures of loved ones and designs of prototypes across the world in seconds. Digitisation is an abstraction with makes itself real through the pervasive infrastructure that we can see around us. It is the fundamental building block of tomorrows world.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.