Communication is key: How Networking Technologies have Changed Our Lives

Tech and Innovation
What’s networking and why is it important?

One of the most overlooked and underappreciated fields of computing is computer networking. We spend countless hours on the Internet thanking the applications of AI and machine learning in our lives,  and yet we at times forget the indispensable role that computer networks play in enabling it.

What exactly does networking mean?

Computer networking is the field of computer science that includes theoretical and practical applications of related fields to enable communication. A widespread notion about computer networks is that it is a synonym for the Internet. However, the latter is only an application of networking, whose foundation was laid by ARPANET. Networking, in its simplest form, is the exchange of data between computers through various media. Networking helps with resource sharing, improving storage capacity and staying connected to the world. Decentralized networking helps to store files at different locations. This technology not only allows access to the files from any location, it also increases the storage capacity.

Newer networking technologies are changing the way we communicate. From telegraphs (which made use of electric pulses) to sending texts on WhatsApp (which uses the Internet), the evolution of networking has come a long way. Let’s look at some of the technologies that are based on communication networks which have contributed to the ubiquity of digital communication.

The technologies we know about (and those that we don’t)

The Internet, needless to say, is an indispensable part of our lives. But, to backtrack a bit, it’s not only changed only our lifestyles, but its own abilities. What used to be a static network with very little bytes being exchanged has evolved into a dynamic entity capable of transferring very large amounts of data. It has grown to encompass entire universities, hospitals and many small and large institutions. However, the internet is available as long as the enabling technologies play their parts well. This includes networking devices such as routers, modems, servers, fiber cables etc. and the various communication protocols.

The Internet of Things or IoT is a network made up of sensors and other devices that are interconnected so that data can be exchanged. The applications of IoT include wearable devices, industry automation etc. However, the connectivity for the IoT devices is provided by computer networks. Technologies such as Bluetooth, ZigBee, Wifi, 5G etc. are used by the IoT devices to stay interconnected. On-board units on vehicles are also a very important application of IoT. These devices control a vehicle’s features including heating, entertainment systems, power etc. The on-board units can in turn be controlled using smartphones from anywhere in the world.

One of the best advantages of cellular communication is its mobility. Mobility refers to the movement of devices or users across different cellular coverage areas. Even when devices move away from a tower, uninterrupted connectivity is possible due to the concept of mobility, where the network helps the device to get connected to another tower closest to it. When we talk about mobility, it is impossible to miss out on connected vehicles. Connected vehicles can connect to other vehicles, roadside units and devices in the vicinity through wireless media. In fact, connected vehicles are capable of providing entertainment, bi-directional communication, and improved safety.

With the emergence of better connectivity, the sophistication of connected vehicles has only increased. Routes are automatically selected, the speed of a vehicle is adjusted to adapt the speed of the other vehicles in the vicinity, accident alerts are shared, collision control is improved and traffic patterns are predicted. However, all of these are limited by the communication technologies available. With the advent of 5G, the latency of the on-board devices that enable connected vehicles to communicate can be reduced. This can help to improve real-time communication. Some of the leading organisations that have been working on the concept of connected vehicles include Ericsson, Volvo, Google and Tesla, among others. Ericsson has collaborated with Microsoft to improve connectivity between vehicles by incorporating cloud technology.

Anywhere operations is a model that helps to support employee engagement, customers and to manage the deployment business operations from anywhere in the world using a distributed architecture. It focuses on providing value-added experiences such as collaboration and productivity through enhanced security, improved automation and better storage through cloud and edge computing technologies. In order to provide a seamless digital experience, it is important to model the architecture accordingly. The anywhere operations model would not be as effective if it were not for improved communication networks.

Due to the complexity of evolving networks and their improved applicability, many trends have begun to take shape. These include next-generation wireless technologies, software-defined networks, network encryption, Unified Communications as a Service (UCaas), and anywhere operations among others.

Organisations that have been pivotal in networking

There are a number of organisations that focus on developing networking technologies and devices. Some of these include Cisco, IBM, AT&T, Sophos, L&T, Qualcomm and Juniper.

Cisco develops some of the best networking devices in use today. They also develop state-of-the art networking tools that can help improve remote working, connectivity and network security. L&T focuses on developing products and services related to IoT, cloud computing, information management strategy, and mobile services among others.

Juniper develops both hardware and software related to networking. These include routers, network security and management softwares,VPN, and software-defined network technology.

Qualcomm is a name that is synonymous with smartphone processors. However, the company also develops networking hardware for smartphones and tablets.

AT&T is a huge name in communication technologies. They are also one of the leading service providers in the world and are known for their pioneering work in communication networks.

The roles in networking and how to get there

Networking jobs include network engineer, network administrator, network analyst, network researcher, hardware designer, network security specialist, wireless network engineer, wireless infrastructure specialist etc.

In order to begin a career in networking, one must learn the fundamentals of networking starting from understanding how the hardware and software work together in order to transfer information from one device to another. There are numerous wired and wireless communication technologies and one must understand how data communication takes place on either. A bachelor’s or a master’s is necessary to land a job in any of the networking roles mentioned above. In order to design and develop networks, a doctoral degree may be required as the process requires a lot more in-depth knowledge about networking.

Network security is of utmost importance in today’s digital world as data is considered to be worth far more than gold or silver. Stories about how entire countries are crippled through cyber attacks have only increased paranoia. Cyberwarfare is real and many organisations and governments are engaged in such battles against nefarious groups. Therefore, the need for cybersecurity experts is very high. Wireless network engineers design and develop wireless networking devices. The role of a wireless network engineer is very important these days owing to the growing popularity of cloud computing, software-defined networks and high-speed connectivity. Network administrators play a vital role in any organisation that has a fairly large communication network. They are responsible for maintaining a reliable and secure network for exchange of data. They are also required to deploy, configure and maintain communication systems. Network analysts need to plan, design and configure the layout of hardware based on the requirements of a network. They need to chalk out plans on ways to efficiently use the available network resources by analysing and understanding the technical requirements.

Many organisations provide certifications in networking through rigorous training programs and hands-on sessions. These include certifications from Cisco (CCNA, CCNP, CCDA, CCIE etc), Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWTS, CWNA, CWAP etc), HP ExpertOne Networking (HP AIS, HP ASE etc), Juniper (JNCIS-ENT, JNCIP-ENT etc), Oracle (OCE), and Wireshark (WCNA). However, the certifications are not limited to these as newer certifications with advanced courses are being introduced frequently.

Networks is a very vast field that can be considered as the cornerstone of many advanced applications. Understanding its evolution is important in order to further develop newer communication technologies. If there is one field that will not go out of vogue, you can bet that it will be computer networks.

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