Information And Communications Technology

ICT - Overview - About the Sector - Text

Information and communications technology (ICT) is an umbrella term applied to communication devices and systems including computer and network hardware and software; telecommunications (e.g. telephones, mobile phones, radio and television); and satellite systems. It also covers the applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing, data management and distance learning. The devices and systems are often interlinked, for example satellites used by mobile phone networks.

Key applications of ICT

  • Smart mobility: improve air quality, reduce congestion, sustain mobility for the elder generation and increase accident free mobility;
  • Smart society: intelligent, secure and easy-to-use data systems;
  • Smart energy: sustainable energy generation and conversion, reducing energy consumption, efficient community energy management;
  • Smart health: long and healthy living through affordable care and well-being; improved food production, processing and delivery; and
  • Smart production: manufacturing and process automation and new manufacturing and process technologies enabled by advanced electronics systems.

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ICT today is mainly semi-conductor and silicon-based, with integrated circuits driving the ICT systems – here called Traditional ICT. Also of relevance in the context of nanotechnology is Frontier ICT, using new materials and novel systems including the potential of quantum computing and organic electronics.

The ability to measure and manufacture at the nanoscale is opening up many new avenues within industry and across society including information and communication technologies

In using new methods and new technologies, the main goals of manufacturers of traditional ICT, such as chips for electronics, are to make smaller, faster and better devices. Reduced size means that more components and more functionalities can be put into a device. Faster and better devices are built with components with better computing speed and capacity. Better devices may also have the ability to process and/or store more data. Associated goals are to minimise heating and, of course, costs of materials and manufacture.

Nanotechnology can contribute to all these goals through coatings, particles, and films but also, in the future, perhaps through radical changes in how ICTs work, though the use of spin (rather than charge) in technologies known as spintronics, quantum computing and DNA computing.

In traditional ICT and electronics, the role of nanotechnology is to contribute to achieving these goals. In the future, nanotechnology may offer radical new solutions in ICT, including quantum and DNA computing. Some examples of the ways in which nanotechnology is being used or developed to improve ICT include:

  • Silver nanowires are highly conductive and flexible making them a potential replacement for indium tin oxide which is currently used to make transparent, conductive layers for tactile displays(1).
  • Nanoscale quantum dots in the form of a thin film in front of an LCD backlight are being used in novel television screens(2). Quantum dots (QDs) of different sizes each emit a different colour of light, improving the reproduction rate and brightness compared with conventional liquid-crystal or LED displays, making for a more saturated appearance. The QD technology is also expected to be cheaper than organic LED screens.
  • Nanoimprint lithography(3) is a technique to produce higher resolution patterns for integrated circuits than traditional photolithography. It has been used to fabricate field-effect transistors and single-electron memories. It is a simple, low-cost, and high-throughput process for replicating micro- and nanoscale patterns using mechanical deformation to create a pattern on a resist-coated substrate. The resist may be cured using heat or ultra-violet light. One mould may be used repeatedly to routinely make patterns at the scale of tens of nanometres.
  • Nanotechnology-based imaging systems are used to position components with great precision in three dimensions in the research, testing and manufacture of ICT and in combination with ICT systems.(4)
  • Research is underway on carbon nanotubes (CNTs) as integrated light sources, modulators and detectors in silicon-based photonic devices. Single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) are a mono-dimensional material, with specific electronic and optical properties relevant to electronics and opto-electronics devices, including light sources.
  • Hard disc drives are magnetic memories that do not lose the information stored in them when the power is removed. They are however, relatively slow to access, much slower than random access memories (RAM). Many new solid-state technologies are being developed based on the magnetic spin of their materials. One such is spin-transfer-torque magnetic RAM (STT-MRAM) in which the information is stored in the spin of nanomagnets and accessed electrically(5). This set of technologies is known as spintronics(6).
  • Spin–torque nano–oscillators (STNOs) have outstanding advantages of a high degree of compactness, high–frequency tunability, and good compatibility with the standard complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor process, which offer prospects for future wireless communication.
  • Plant-based photonic devices may in the future be used as sensor and communication networks. Photonic structures occur in plants and fruits as well as in butterflies, beetles, jellyfish and birds(7). In plants, these structures affect the absorption and channelling of light in the plant. It may be possible to use the channelling effect to improve sensor function and/or energy harvesting. Plants may also be able to power a small circuit using the sugars they produce or act as chemical sensors and communicate information by fluorescent signalling(8).
  4. Physics World Focus on Nanotechnology: reaping the benefits of nanomaterials, May 2015
  8. Physics World Focus on Nanotechnology: reaping the benefits of nanomaterials, May 2015