What to Expect in Cloud-Based Communications in 2020

John Donovan, AT&T's chief technology officer, is making what he calls "creepy" and "spooky" -- but ultimately good -- predictions for wireless computing and communications in the cloud in 2020.

By Matt Hamblen
Tue, February 15, 2011

Computerworld — BARCELONA -- John Donovan, AT&T's chief technology officer, is making what he calls "creepy" and "spooky" -- but ultimately useful -- predictions for wireless computing and communications in the cloud in 2020.

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In one broad scenario, Donovan said wireless users could store all kinds of data about their lives in the cloud and authorize various algorithms and computing systems to analyze it for later use to communicate and remind us of names, addresses, arcane facts and other important, and less important, tidbits.

That capability implies that personalized mobile phones and tablets that we carry around today won't be necessary, he said in an interview at Mobile World Congress.

In his outlook, someone could drive to dinner at a friend's house and use a wireless device, perhaps over a TV, to make a call or send a message by entering a password or fingerprint scan. The device would then find all of the caller's personal information in the cloud, including the phone number or e-mail address of whomever was being called. Even the names of the other person's children would be accessible, for example.

"Answers to everything will be at our fingertips, and [the information will be] more mobile and more ubiquitous," Donovan said.

A consequence of this repository of information in the cloud is that people will become independent of devices like smartphones and tablets, Donovan said. "Software will converge and devices will disintegrate and we'll have fewer devices that belong to us anymore," he said. "I don't see the need to carry mobile devices to visit you at your house, and I'll borrow one you have and authenticate myself on it."

AT&T is already experimenting with the cloud concept in its labs, he said. One experiment relies on information that carriers have known for years about calling and data usage patterns, including how a preponderance of people call home on Sunday nights.

That kind of patterns analysis will ultimately make communications and access to information more convenient, Donovan said. "If today I always answer calls from home at my work, then the phone will continue to ring there, but if I never answer your calls or e-mails, then I should never hear [or see] them," he said. "Time of day, day of week, location, business versus personal ... these things are not terribly complex [to analyze]."

AT&T's lab work has already used Donovan as a guinea pig. Engineers in recent weeks took all of Donovan's communications, including calls and e-mails, and uploaded logs from them, reading them not for words but for patterns. The lab analysis spit out a list of Donovan's top 30 best friends, ranked from 1 to 30. To his relief, "my wife was at the top," he said.

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