‘2020 & Beyond Predictions’ provided a stage for expert analysts and industry luminaries to share their perspectives on what lies ahead. Here’s what we learnt:
• It’s easier to get 5G in Bolton and Birkenhead than Silicon Valley – with the UK one of the European pace-setters in terms of 5G roll-outs. Want to know the global leader? Look east. It’s South Korea – who now have 3.5m 5G customers.
• Switzerland is Europe’s leader in 5G (with 90% coverage expected by end of the year). Interestingly, one of the big operators there – Sunrise – is getting real traction by positioning 5G as a fixed broadband alternative to consumers and business.
• Looking forward, the big use case in business for 5G is likely to be around local and private networks. Expect businesses to deploy their own ring-fenced 5G network to assure the security and performance of their factory operations or autonomous vehicles.
• On the matter of autonomous vehicles, they’re not as far away as you think. There are already 60 delivery robots on the streets of Milton Keynes delivering groceries for the Co-op. Using the ‘Starship Technologies’ smartphone app, shoppers can place their order – and get their delivery in as little as 10 minutes.
• The bot is coming to the workplace too. By 2025, it’s predicted that a fifth of employees will use worker bots or automated digital workers in specific tasks – most likely to handle repetitive admin like data entry or standardised processes, such as payroll, rather than making cups of tea. Anyway the party-line so far is they’ll augment jobs rather than replace them, but let’s see.
• Task workers (typically ‘deskless’ employees) should also brace themselves for an influx of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality applications in the workplace. Volkswagen already has plans in place to train 10,000 employees using VR this year.
• VR seems like a good thing – ultimately promising much richer virtual collaboration between colleagues, regardless of where they’re based. What’s more, as organisations face more heat about their environmental impact, it’s estimated that it could displace 20% of business travel by 2029. To be honest, I’m hoping that figure will be far higher.
• Forget Google Glass – Rest in (temporary) Peace – there are lots more new AR Smart kids on the block. One noteworthy contender – North Focals – ‘bringing together the best of eyewear and smartphones’. In fact, by 2025, smart spectacles could be a well-established product category, both correcting our vision and overlaying information to help us navigate the world.
• IoT adoption will be spurred on by 5G, but it’s going to take some time to hit critical mass (think 2025 onwards). IoT is still too complex a thing for a lot of firms due to the challenge of bringing together many component parts (and providers). But we can expect to see more templated IoT systems coming to market to support key use cases around surveillance and assembly line monitoring – even by the end of 2020.
• One area of IoT that’s going great guns is the Smart Home. Daniel Rausch, VP, Smart Home at Amazon – ‘the only person in the world who has probably spent more than $1bn on doorbells’ chimed in with his perspective. Adoption only seems to be going one way – up. There are now 100m Alexa-enabled devices installed in the world – and the company is even rolling out its own ‘Neighbourhood Area Network’ to support them (aka. Sidewalk). Daniel talked about Amazon’s ‘Certified by Humans’ initiative driving the development of all its smart devices. Set up? There is no set-up. Plug it in, it should just work. Tech firms the world over take note.
• Beyond the Smart Home, there’s the rise of the Smart City, which will need to help address some very big problems cities will face in the coming years. One such issue is traffic congestion. Interestingly, China is already leading the way. Hangzhou is now using a combination of smart cameras (aka. surveillance cameras) and car GPS to adjust road signs in real-time so traffic flows. It’s gone from being the 5th most congested city in China to 57th.
• Mobile operators and other tech firms need to prepare themselves for the ‘Tech Lash’. Their strategies and activities are going to come under more and more public scrutiny. We’ve already seen protests and base stations vandalised amid health concerns about 5G – with fake news often fanning the flames (birds falling from the sky?) Then there are environmental worries about 5G power-hungry base stations and what happens to all those obsolete phones. The advice: there’s an opportunity for operators to get off the blocks first and take a proactive, positive stance.
• Prepare for a new breed of security threat. Adversarial AI sounds like it could pretty much be end-of-days stuff. And then there’s the drone. Not only the armed swarm drones being bought by the Turkish government amongst others – with facial recognition capabilities – but the cyber threat posed by hacker drones. What happens when an autonomous drone lands on top of your corporate HQ and hacks into your Wi-Fi?
• Finally, be afraid, very afraid. Brain computing is a very real thing. There are already companies like HUMM selling trans-cranial patches that claim to improve short-term memory by a very specific 17%. And then there’s CTRL Labs (recently acquired by Facebook) that has created a ‘neural interface platform’ reading your thought-patterns to type with 80% accuracy. In my book, just one more security threat for us to worry about.
A big thank you to CCS Insight for another fascinating voyage into what may lie ahead in big tech. For real expert analysis, check out their new website.