A New Roaring 20s for Networks


By Howard Watson, Chief Security and Networks Officer, BT Group

The 1920s saw huge technology-led developments in the areas of mass production, transportation, connectivity and electrification, each bringing profound changes for citizens, businesses and society.  Often nicknamed ‘the roaring twenties’, this period began with the consequences of war, a post pandemic period, high inflation and high interest rates.

100 years later and I’m struck by the parallels I see: not only in the geo-political environment but also in the areas of mass production, transportation, connectivity and electrification. Technology-led developments in these areas are changing things again – this time, offering fantastic opportunities for digitization in the UK.

If we look to mass production, we’re witnessing a cambrian rise of robotics. Transportation has seen major progress with the promise of autonomous cars, drones/aircraft, delivery bots and more. In the area of connectivity and new media, there are huge advances in spatial computing – virtual and mixed reality, advanced entertainment, digital twins, as well as generative AI content. And in 2024, electrification is about de-carbonisation, renewable energy, electric vehicles and distributed energy storage.

What does this mean for network providers? This means opportunities.  

  • Mass production: With the explosion of robotics, comes a need for reliable, low latency and high bandwidth services, and demand for remote monitoring and control interventions. Operators could provide enhanced customer experiences to those that need it, by guaranteeing the level of throughput, reliability and control for specific services via network slicing.
  • Transportation: Developments will demand co-ordinated transport services, connected airspace, and guaranteed continuous coverage enabling smooth travel.
  • Connectivity and new media: The challenge that real time simulated systems present is the huge amount of data they create. As offerings advance, the demand for consistent latency and high bandwidth services will increase even further.
  • Electrification: Looking ahead, there could be opportunities for operators to provide energy and connectivity resilience as a service to customers.

Evolution in these four key areas will lead to major advancements in productivity and efficiency, but only if the network supports the underlying products and services that enable it.

Our challenge is to ensure the network can deliver the robust connectivity that enables such technology advancements – a network that is hyper-personalised, customisable, automated and on-demand.

BT Group’s fixed and mobile network credentials are strong and that put us in a strong leading position. We’ve also refreshed our network strategy so that we are laser focused on developing a fully programmable network, under-pinned by on-demand, real time, AI first and best in class security capabilities.

Looking ahead

Although the world looks a little different 100 years later, the technological evolution driving greater connectivity demands remains indisputable. Economic growth will drive spending on networks and connectivity to enable the digitisation required to unlock the productivity improvements that AI, renewable energy, robots and digital twin technologies promise.

We’re excited by the opportunities that the new roaring 20’s will bring. We’ve got really strong foundations, and we are in a great position to unleash product innovation, through our ambitions for the programmable network, to meet our customers’ needs.