Device virtualization may seem unimaginable now, but it could become reality in a decade.
Service endpoint agents — devices yet unbuilt — would operate in constant contact with cellular data networks, with SEA information stored on worldwide edge networks. In such a situation, with a device that has a lot of RAM yet no internal storage, everything from saving images to tapping productivity apps would require a consistent, highly reliable data connection.
“Devices will always need a minimal level of functionality and connectivity to deliver a minimum level of function,” says Managing Director and Vice President Alan Carlton of InterDigital Europe. “The essential notion of the SEA is that any user interface can become yours when you need it.”
5G Networks Can Make SEA a Reality
Steps toward device virtualization have been taken; a photo on an iPhone, for example, probably resides on iCloud, not internal storage. But to be fully functioning devices for roaming business users and to capitalize on workers using their smartphones and tablets, SEAs will need a mature 5G mobile network.
This broadband technology is expected to be ready by 2020. When 5G is at last commercially available, it should markedly increase internet speeds and lower latency.
The benefits of extending virtualization to the device level will come through centralized user device management and improved scalability. All the ways that employees access a company’s data assets will be managed and that data protected through the same virtualization stack.
SEAs will require a constant mobile network connection and close to zero latency. While 5G networks promise data speeds faster than most broadband services can now deliver, there are technical hurdles that need to be cleared.
“5G will be city-centric, covering parts of suburbs and rural areas, such as highways, as well,” says Phil Solis, senior analyst at SAR Insight & Consulting. “True 5G networks will use centimeter and millimeter wave spectrum that has large channels and where transmission can be spatially directed, allowing for special division of capacity using the same frequencies at the same time.”
While 5G may be ready by 2020, users will have to wait longer for networks to grow dense enough to support device virtualization, says Ted Rappaport, professor of electrical engineering at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.
“It will take a few years for the 5G technology to mature and reduce in price before we see SEAs, but the world will begin to use them in the early to mid-2020s,” Rappaport says.
The Evolving Mobile Device: Dawn of Service Endpoint Agents
What will SEAs look like? Supercharged mobile phones? Space-age tablets?
Rappaport conjures a vision of SEAs coming over the horizon in the next five to 10 years.
“If you look back at some of the concepts, like One Laptop Per Child — the idea of a simple, low-cost device capable of providing many functions — you begin to glimpse what the first virtual devices may look like,” he says of the rectangular, white-and-green computers created by the eponymous nonprofit organization and given to students in some of the world’s poorer nations. “These devices will surely require a network to operate reliably, but the updates and access could be bursty, periodically over the space of several minutes or even overnight.”
Additionally, the ability for 3D visualization, as seen in Star Wars or Star Trek, is coming to devices of the future, Rappaport believes: “The greater bandwidths provided by wireless channels in 5G, combined with increasing processing power due to Moore’s Law — which states that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits will double every 18 months — will enable these types of capabilities. And, they will be in routine use by the mid-2020s, if not before, just like smartphones are today.”