CWIC 2022 – the hyperconnected human

More than 400 delegates convened at Hinxton Hall near Cambridge for the Cambridge Wireless International Conference (CWIC) this year, with many more joining this hybrid event online. There was a tremendous buzz about the conference with face-to-face tickets sold out well in advance.  Delegates easily filled the main auditorium and some sessions were left with standing room only. 

Conference theme 

In the wireless sector, we are seeing that the way people and devices are connecting to information and content is changing – so too is the nature of that content. We have seen mobile devices evolve from delivering voice-to-text messages to downloading focused data services, to bidirectional video calls and social media and now increasingly 3D volumetric interactive content for immersive services. All of this has implications for the wireless networks delivering the connectivity behind this ever-growing range of user expectations.   

The conference title – “The hyperconnected human” – was intentionally ambiguous to reflect the increasingly diverse range of wireless user expectations that is continuing to challenge our industry. The fact that all audience members interpreted “hyperconnectivity” in different ways meant that delegates attended from a large range of businesses including suppliers of wireless, application developers looking to use wireless, end users of wireless, investors in wireless and many more. 

The CWIC team had developed an agenda that explored user expectations for connectivity in various environments including in the home, across transport networks, in healthcare settings and the entertainment industry. They also recognised that with increased connectivity comes more risk related to data exchange and security, so the agenda included this topic too, as well as discussions on the entertainment industry. Finally, there was an acknowledgement of the step change that is happening in the type of content being consumed on our wireless networks towards more immersive, interactive experiences, with a plenary session dedicated to Living in the Metaverse.   

Conference sessions and observations 

Prof Shafi Ahmed delivered the opening keynote speech. He has long been a believer in using digital worlds to augment and improve training and delivery of care in healthcare settings. He highlighted how having medical students physically alongside more experienced surgeons and observing procedures is not always practical and scalable, and the important role that more immersive, virtual and augmented reality content is having for today’s medical students. He also highlighted how surgeons wearing smart glasses can be aided by input from remote colleagues and superimposing patient data on the surgeons’ view. Other applications of connectivity mentioned included pill cameras which are swallowed by patients and deliver images from inside the body to medical teams. 

Across the main conference sessions, a number of key threads of discussion appeared: 

  • There are high expectations for more immersive and collaborative digital content, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and the metaverse, to become commonplace quickly. Alex Ruhl from PWC highlighted in her presentation a survey that her company had done of C-level executives where 82% of those surveyed felt that the metaverse would be part of their normal way of working in the next three years. 
  • An audience member asked in the opening keynote, as we all get more connected with digital content, will digital worlds and interactions replace our physical world? Key conclusions on this from across the day were that we need to use digital technology to “augment”, improve and make our physical experiences more efficient. Michelle Lim a behavioural scientist from Cambridge Consultants talked in the Living in the Metaverse session about creating a “bridge” between digital and physical worlds rather than replacing one with the other.   
  • The rise in popularity of more immersive content is a great opportunity for the UK. The UK has a vibrant creative industries sector and is well known for its films and gaming. These skills are transferrable to developing new augmented and virtual reality experiences and will hopefully give the UK a head start when it comes to the volumetric capture of content. 
  • Across the day, the role of more sensor technology and the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) was highlighted. There are already a range of wireless sensors deployed to help improve logistics, monitor patients and monitor environmental conditions to name but a few. However, a few issues were raised relating to this: 
        • Many sensor systems are being developed in isolation and are not compatible with one another. This means that data is not readily sharable or in some cases collected in duplicate by different systems. This issue needs addressing. 
        • As sensor deployments grow in number, the volume of traffic being transferred on networks will grow, making the scale-up of these systems difficult.  A lot of work is being done in edge computing using machine learning and artificial intelligence to preprocess the data that is collected, and only relay to the main network the useful data. 
  • As more data is collected, security, trust and authentication of data become increasingly important. Fortunately, as highlighted by the security session at CWIC, there is a lot of work going into this area. 
  • Connectivity is crucial and underpins our digital experiences. It is a key part of ensuring our growing expectations are met. We frequently take connectivity for granted, especially in developed nations like the UK, but ensuring the right infrastructure is in place is challenging and requires investment and recognition. 

David Birch an author and commentator on financial services, delivered a highly entertaining and thought-provoking closing keynote on “The Data Economy”.  This focused on the value of all the data being collected in our hyperconnected world and thinking towards a data economy that delivers tangible value. 

Closing remarks on CWIC 2022 

A huge amount of joint effort and energy went into creating CWIC 2022 this year.  It was my pleasure to chair the conference organising committee and I would like to thank both the CWIC committee and CW team for all their hard work in organising the event and securing such a fantastic line-up of speakers and panellists. A huge thank you also to all our speakers, panellists, sponsors, exhibitors and, of course, our audience for giving their time, enthusiasm and energy to the day. 

Overall, CWIC 2022 was a fantastic, sell-out event that marked the start of many conversations around what hyperconnectivity means, whether we need it everywhere and ensuring that those providing our wireless connectivity are aligned with what users and application developers need. There was a huge buzz around the conference this year and I hope that many of the conversations and connections started at CWIC 2022 will be continued.