Sir Isaac Newton acknowledged his debt to his scientific forebears by saying he could see furthest only because he was a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants. Radio engineers today, often giants in their field, remain fixed in the template that the dwarf gave them.
And though we all work to the precepts he laid out, we still fall into three categories: those who believe all can be known from those precepts, those who think we can know nothing, and those who think Newton could have saved us a lot of bother by devoting more time to his day job at the Royal Mint.
Newton was the man who showed that science is the result of observation and measurement of the natural world. In proposing his laws, he spawned the concept that engineers can build models of systems, exercise those systems and draw conclusion on their performance. From there they can hypothesise new laws, seek evidence and espouse new laws and so progress is made.
Because of such modelling, the body of knowledge in radiocommunications has grown steadily since the 1950s to a point where radiocommunications engineers can explain their world in high fidelity using computer simulation. The accuracy with which this can be done is astounding to the point that no-one should consider radiocommunications network deployment without simulation of their plans against these laws. In our risk-averse times it is the only way to effect risk control without huge expense in equipment, effort and sometimes lives.
And yet three schools exist. There are those positivists who believe that everything can be explained; it’s just a question of time. Interpretivists believe that it’s all a black art and simulation is dubious. And there are still disbelievers who retort with “it’s only a model”. Be sure: modelling radiocommunications networks is a science that has come of age. The models exist. The errors are known. And the models can be adapted and enhanced for new technologies. Be absolutely certain: every radiocommunications requirement and solution can be modelled and from that modelling, networks can be planned, spectrum managed and electronic battles fought and won.
Progress is a human endeavour. Paraphrasing one definition, ‘mankind has advanced in the past, is now advancing and will advance in the future’. Advancement can be thought of both abstractly and materially but since Greek times, this is generally considered in terms of knowledge.
Now, we hear much about the stalling of progress; that as a society we have reached the limit of economic advancement; that we are depleting the Earth of her resources; that science itself has reached its limits; and finally that boredom and mediocrity has set in. Don’t believe a bit of it.
Progress is being made in radiocommunications markets. In the capitalist West, we generally accept that the free market is the most successful form for business. Ofcom and other European regulators are taking the first steps to free the spectrum of command and control regulation, leading ultimately to market measures being introduced wholesale. Progress is being made too in radiocommunications use. Just as the interpretivist’s ‘black art’ giving way to positivism, standard operating procedures are giving way to deterministic synthesis in military planning. The concept of a user exclusively occupying a channel or spectrum block is giving way to a duty to share with all the associated issues of access rights but all the benefits of access to services. And finally progress is being made in software and the internet allowing technology to be designed just as humans need it. Frankly, we in the radiocommunications industry face an exciting time ahead.