Whenever anyone asks me about the network of the future, I tell them there won’t be one. That always gets an interesting reaction. But I’m not just being a contrarian. I believe that we’re going to see major changes in the way we think of networking and being connected.

The way I see it, the “network of the future” is going to be a system, not a network as we have come to think of it today. This system is going to consist of several key components. There is the foundational physical infrastructure, primarily fiber-optic cables. There is the part that we think of now as the network, the visible parts of which will primarily be wireless. And there are the appliances/devices, the various radio sets to address varying needs, and of course the applications.

Just look at the numbers of work crews in metropolitan areas all across this country that are installing residential fiber-optic cable. We’re in the midst of an infrastructure boom, laying the groundwork for this system of the future. Right now, no one’s really thinking about this system; they’re just responding to the need for greater coverage and capacity. As it continues to build out, though, this expanded high-speed fixed and wireless mesh will become the physical foundation of that system.

Most of the applications we will run on this new system haven’t even been conceived yet. In many cases, the applications may be as simple as a data analysis derivative, or as complex as a deep learning, deep thinking element.

The service provided by this system will also be part of a new model. Today, we sign a contract for a service for a specified time, and if we use all the bandwidth available, for the whole term of the contract, great. If we don’t, well, it still costs the same. With this new system, the service will be offered by the drink, rather than by the gallon.

In other words, your company will use the service for the duration of your need, and then disconnect (logically, not physically). You will pay for what you used, period. It will be self-provisioning and self-actuated, so when you click on the right icon, you’re using and paying for the service, and when you log off, it’s done.  It’s a new, smart, systematic approach.

Those urban fiber installations I mentioned earlier are sort of an immature starting point for this system, with its combination of a wired foundation and wire-free network (a combination of WiFi and macro capabilities). The inevitable next steps are to begin to perceive and define this as a system.

So, what does this mean to enterprises, and what do you need to do to start preparing?

It means that pretty much all the learning, processing, and storing of everything will be happening in the cloud. That’s where all the real processing power and intelligence will be, with enterprises simply tapping into that via appliances and devices. What the enterprise will need to focus on inside its walls is security. Companies will need strong firewalls, gateways, session border controllers, and whatever the next generation of edge elements involves. They will need to be able to trust both their own security and the security of the cloud-based service.

The bigger issue at this point is to be thinking ahead. Study up on virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Those will be the manifestations of the system of the feature, thinking machines that will be able to take full advantage of all the information and connectivity that is available throughout this system.

Getting started on that means – if you haven’t begun this already – getting comfortable with computing in the cloud. Experiment now, perhaps with the help of a good tech consultant who can set you up with the optimal cloud-based services for your needs. It’s time to start prepping for the vast opportunities that this system of the future will present.

What are you waiting for?