In our annual assessment of predictions for the year, and forecast for the next one coming, we’ve decided to combine them into one post.
We’ll start with a look at how we did with how our predictions for 2017 fared. Fair to say that overall our forecast for 2017, spanning Augmented Reality, 5G development, Net Neutrality and Network Slicing held very well. Though we were admittedly early to the mark as regards the eSIM movement, we may have only jumped the gun a little.
First to AR, which had been the promise of the year 2017, with the most interesting statement coming from Mark Zuckerberg declaring that the smartphone camera represented the first wave of AR devices. Clearly, we need to wait for something better to show up, but the attention around this topic, even if not fully realized, has been as steady as predicted. Add to that Apple’s decision to add a QR code reader to its camera and we can already see what better is starting to look like as they pave the way for the next wave of UI disruption.
And now to the main course: As predicted, along with 5G (no surprise there), Network Slicing has been the buzzword of the year in telecom. But despite its near inestimable promise and some pretty cool PoCs including our own, carriers have been slow to adopt the new technology, and this reinforces our forecast for sustained rough seas for telecom equipment manufacturers. On the bright side that hasn’t been the case for mobile operators in the west, with slow but steady growth. That said, India and Africa have faced considerable challenges.
One thing we admittedly missed in our predictions was the rise of AI, and this is an exciting thing to see. Needless to say, communications networks are complex beasts, and so AI finds a perfect fit within them to begin automating optimization and checking at scale. We’ll also own to the fact that our eSIM predictions, though not completely off, may have been a bit premature. This time last year, amid the hubbub about the end of roaming and bill shock we expected that the arrival of the eSIM would set off an avalanche of mergers in Europe. While there is most likely something cooking in the back kitchens of more than a few large operators, 2017 did not deliver the goods on the shift to eSIMs.
Of course Net Neutrality has been in the headlines of late, with the FCC’s vote to end it yesterday and on the opposite end of the spectrum, this fall’s landmark crack down in India, we expect that it will remain a heavy political hammer in the in coming years, and we’ll certainly be following it closely through 2018.
So now on to 2018 and our predictions for the year. What kinds of developments do we see around the corner and how will these map to the overall health of the telecom sector?
Call me an optimist, but I feel it safe to say that vendors will have a better year in 2018 than 2017. Mobile traffic has been on the increase for years and it will only go up, but on the precipice of a 5G and the dire need for more capacity, mobile operators will have no choice but to invest. This is certainly something we saw back in 2004 when we moved to 3G, but unlike previous generational shifts, 4G is will be with us for some time (probably until 2035), so carriers understand that investments here don’t constitute spending good money after bad. And at the same time we’ll see the investment community, who up until now has been skeptical at best about 5G, buying into the logic and vision behind it and the promise of new, increasing and more sustainable revenues from the telecom ecosystem.
Girding for the coming waves of change there will be some consolidations and many are already here, including Broadcom’s rumoured takeover of Qualcomm. On the content side we just witnessed Disney’s surprising and historic takeover of Fox, 60 Billion dollar powerhouse that it’s owner Rupert Murdoch felt couldn’t compete in the new, silicon valleyized entertainment business. Certainly there is something in the air.
On the network side we expect to see an increasing number of 5G players coming out of the woodwork and this speaks directly to the technology shift from hardware to software that significantly lowers the barriers of entry.
On the whole, and in spite of somewhat rosier prospects for operators, 2018 looks to continue along much the same trajectory it has for the past decade; mobile traffic will increase and revenues will stay flat. At the same time, we expect sustaining high volume buzz around Network Slicing with more trials and even launches. This will mark a key turning point for 5G that up until now has been mostly hype. In 2018 that hype will begin to take concrete form.
Of course the changes won’t only occur on the network side. They will filter down to the user and device level in some real ways. For example, it soon won’t be practical to have devices that are only connected to the internet when a WiFi signal is available. Certainly we expect to see the “always-on” laptop to emerge, but that won’t be the only device with a pervasive connection to the mobile network. Devices like surveillance, body and vehicle cameras will soon come online as well. While this may not be a major trend for 2018, with 5G’s touted rollout date of 2020 just around the corner, and always-on device connectivity being one of its corner stones, it seems a logical starting point to ready the market for the sea change to come. And because much of this is doable on 4G networks, and since the venerable LTE will be with us for another 20 years, it will be both the workhorse of future networks and a test bed for many of these early experiments.
The third prediction relates to our communication networks and the prominent social media platforms that surround and inform us. No question but that the last year has proven that social media and democracy have become a volatile mix. No doubt, with amount of public debate, attention and litigation around the scourge of fake news and other harmful material, the major players, Facebook and Google will continue to invest in ways to combat it. Given the relative failure of human content soldiers in this effort, this will become a rife playground for sophisticated AI algorithms that will not only serve to weed out bad content, but indeed become a platform for new technologies that will replace the internet as we know it today.
Thanks for reading, wishing a great end to 2017 and all the best for the new year. As always please feel free to share your thought and insights on the year that was and the year to come.