There is a long history of communication technologies emerging as infrastructure for transformative innovation in almost every sector. The development of the printing press in the 15th century was the first major industrial innovation in communication, enabling many scientific, technological, commercial, cultural, and religious changes. In the 19th century, postal, telegraph, and telephone services made long-distance communications accessible to ordinary people and even helped expand railroads. Wireless radio communications became a mission-critical component of many sectors in the early 20th century. Broadcasting services paved the way for many technological, business, and cultural changes and were the first step to today’s multimedia streaming on the Internet. Meanwhile, films emerged as a new industry, generating a large public appetite for television broadcasts that began later in the mid-20th century. Pagers were developed in the 1950s and became widely available in the 1980s. Mobile telephony (0G) before the cellular era began in the mid-20th century and laid the foundation for cellular mobile communications. Developments in computer communications began in the 1960s. Gradually, these technologies transformed computing systems and enabled many cross-industry innovations. In parallel, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication technologies began facilitating remote monitoring, motion control, industrial automation, etc., and industrial wireless communication was also introduced nearly four decades ago, laying the foundation for the IoT revolution. Wired and wireless communication and broadcasting technologies have enabled profound transformations of processes, systems and services in a variety of sectors.
The first generation (1G) of cellular mobile communications, introduced in the early 1980s, used analog radio signals. These technologies are regularly updated to succeeding generations almost every decade, offering increased speed, quality, network capacity, lower latency, and multiple services that enable the creation of new businesses and processes. 2G started with digital radio signals and supported SMS, security and roaming. The era of cellular IoT started and 2G was also widely used for remote measurement and control projects in various industries. Internationally, railroads have adapted it as a modified communications technology, GSM-R, to manage their mission-critical operations, resulting in faster and safer train services. 3G, broadband services offered, GPS, etc. to redefine the mobile internet experience. New forms of collaboration technologies became available. A new mobile-first business era has begun. Mobile e-commerce, social media, gaming, financial and banking services, etc., which became mainstream with 3G, experienced exponential growth with 4G. 4G enabled a much better mobile internet experience through a wide range of real-time streaming, including telepresence and corporate video conferencing, further scaling and expanding the ongoing transformations. Strategists and policy makers began to include mobility much more enthusiastically in their overall planning.
mHealth emerged as a new space for remote care, enhanced home care and wellness management. Construction companies leveraged 4G to create fully-functional, connected site offices, site security through video surveillance, and workflow management. It has transformed many M2M applications. It also developed into a great infrastructure to guide the work and affairs of the world during the long Covid-19 period.
5G, launched in 2019, with its key features eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), mMTC (Massive Machine Type Communication) and uRLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication) impacts ultra-fast broadband, mass deployment of low-powered IoT devices ( 1 million devices per square kilometer) and extremely reliable communication with low latency (99.99% reliable). 5G and IoT together deepen the integration of the physical, biological and digital worlds and transform IT from information technology to integration technology. According to Transforma Insights, the mMTC will account for 2.6 billion IoT connections by 2030. This integration and blurring of the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds increases efficiencies and opens up new use cases in Manufacturing, Construction, Mining, Energy & Utilities, Healthcare, Transportation, Buildings & Cities, Agriculture through applications such as self-driving vehicles, autonomous systems in factories, smart grids, digital twins, remote surgery, mobile medical surveillance, security, remote control, sensor-based building management and precision agriculture among others. Each of these possibilities offers tremendous market growth opportunities in the near future, e.g. B. Statista estimates that the industrial IoT market will surpass $1.1 trillion by 2028, and according to Verified Market Research, the digital twin market will reach $108.58 billion by 2028.
This transformation opens up a wide range of professional fields for graduates from various engineering disciplines.
The communications and computer engineers will conceptualize, design, implement and operate 5G communications systems. The electronics engineers will design the necessary circuits for the 5G devices and infrastructure, and also build 5G-enabled massive IoT networks. The IT infrastructure engineers design and maintain a 5G-ready IT infrastructure. The cybersecurity professionals have to deal with much higher vulnerabilities in the 5G ecosystem. The software engineers will also create 5G-based applications for different domains.
The data scientists will analyze the ever-growing mountains of data and, together with the software engineers, will also build automation tools for the task. Other engineers will work with the above experts to enrich and transform their own products, systems and processes to integrate them into the 5G ecosystem. Most importantly, 5G and IoT will expand the boxes in which engineers normally think about their respective customers, systems, processes, activities and even goals. The transferrable skills such as recognizing and solving new problems through observation, modelling, analysis, interpretation, innovative synthesis, lateral thinking and systems thinking become even more important. The new hyper-connected world will require even more interdisciplinarity to understand and influence it.
As Julius Caesar said in Latin, “alea iacta est” meaning the die is cast. All engineering students now need to be trained in 5G and IoT, with a main focus on integrating these with their own disciplines to develop innovative applications, standards and technologies in the context of their own core disciplines. Most engineering courses should be enriched with relevant digital transformations and Industry 4.0 developments. For example, the civil engineering course can include surveying topics on digital surveying and drone surveying, the mechanical engineering production engineering course can include topics on 3D printing and computer-integrated manufacturing, and the electrical engineering energy systems course can include topics on smart grids and smart meters. At the same time, there is now a greater need for students specializing in computer science or communications engineering to also fully understand the physical world of core engineering disciplines. This approach does not require the design of new engineering degrees at the bachelor’s level. It will be smarter and more sustainable to redesign the curriculum of the existing courses in all engineering disciplines accordingly. This can be achieved very effectively by expanding the common interdisciplinary core courses in the engineering curriculum, which focus on developing interdisciplinary competencies to solve technical problems by combining the knowledge of the physical and the digital world. Importantly, many of these courses are designed and designed to be taught by interdisciplinary teams of teachers. The new common engineering core courses should cover knowledge areas related to mechanical mechanisms, CAD, computer programming, contemporary manufacturing and construction techniques, digital electronics and embedded systems, engineering measurements, mechanical and electrical machines, digital signal processing & communications, automation & control systems, sensors, actuators , data analytics, IoT, etc. Depending on their strength and focus, universities can integrate these topics differently to create different interdisciplinary courses. Additionally, many conventional mathematics courses in the engineering curriculum can be re-imagined as computational modeling engineering courses offered to all engineering students, thus contextualizing and integrating the mathematics into various engineering disciplines, notably civil, mechanical and electrical engineering on the one hand, and programming and simulation on the other the other side. A large number of subject-specific and interdisciplinary elective courses can help students to learn in a way that suits their interests.
However, as Bertrand Russel, British Nobel laureate, multidisciplinary scholar and great advocate of Indian freedom, said: “More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is delivered.” Nothing is achieved by changing the curriculum alone achieved when teaching methods continue to lack rigor or regular commitment to interdisciplinary and collaborative problem solving through the integration of ideas and technologies. To stay relevant in this era of online education, engineering institutes really need to do a lot of work on this front, even more urgently. Or it’s just too late for most.
The views expressed above are the author’s own.
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