My telecoms and digital economy predictions for 2020

Of course, let me begin by wishing you a good start to the new year. It will be an interesting year in many aspects and it remains a year of high levels of uncertainty, so it is important to stay flexible. As always, the year will provide many “wow” moments in relation to technology, but increasingly we need to step back and ask ourselves: do these developments add value to our society?

Let’s first address the various technologies one by one.

NBN developments will be steady as they go. Slowly more and more FttN connections will be fully fibred and it really doesn’t matter which government will win the federal elections later this year. Perhaps the biggest changes here will be at the industry side. NBN Co is under pressure both from its customers (the retail service providers) and the regulator to provide a better wholesale service that gives the RSPs more certainty over the broadband fees they must pay the company.

I am sure we will visit the NBN topic regularly during 2022, as it remains a political football which will always result in new twists and turns.

Additional developments around the fixed broadband networks will be smart home automation, smart energy and cybersecurity additions through apps and WiFi enabled devices. Telcos will try to compete with the digital companies through bundling strategies. Both in the consumer and the business markets, revenue growth will increasingly depend on I.T. rather than on basic telecoms access.

COVID-19 will remain the major uncertainty, perhaps together with an increase in global instability. On the positive side, the increase in online services such as telehealth, e-education, online shopping and working from home will see a range of new innovations. Across the population, online has now become a major new mass tool and that will create new opportunities for businesses as well as government, social organisations, community groups and so on.

 On the negative side, the pandemic can disrupt peoples lives and business life and the level of uncertainty will remain a key element in how 2022 will develop. Global disruption to chips production, precious metals as well as to the various supply chains, could hold certain developments back such as 5G handsets, EVs and smart devices, just to name a few in our industry.

Digitisation, thanks to COVID-19, is here to stay and has already led to significant levels of government and private industry investments in the digital society and the digital economy. This is leading to a range of experiments on how to transform industries, companies, social institutions and so on.

There is now a willingness across sectors to embrace digitisation rather than the previous situation where many people within those organisations resisted it. This means learning on the job, being flexible and making changes when and where needed. No five-year road maps, please. The pandemic has changed this aspect of life forever. Developments I have been talking about for 20 years are now implemented within two years.

As the pandemic will slowly retreat, the geopolitical disruptions will increase, but let’s hope that our leaders keep a cool head. This leads into issues such as cyberwarfare as we will see below.

COVID-19, climate change and geopolitical changes have resulted in massive investments in artificial intelligence, blockchain and particularly in machine learning (ML). Deploying these innovative technologies is very complex. While progress is often two steps forward and one step back, it is most likely the most critical ICT developments of the future that we are seeing slowly emerging.

Eventually, this will also result in a further democratisation of this technology which will lead to a massive increase in its use. The downside of this will be as with the internet and social media, that it becomes easier for those who do want to take advantage of these technologies for evil or criminal purposes. I predict that these negative developments plus cybercrime and cyberwarfare are going to be key areas of concern perhaps not yet in 2022 but certainly in the following years.

We need to mention social media here again as the misuse of this is undermining our democracy it allows for conspiracy theories to flourish and assist people, organisations and countries to spread fake news, stimulates polarisation and severely undermines trust.  Significantly more regulations are required if we do want to maintain our current levels lifestyle, freedoms and democracy.

Climate change will be another major challenge. There are some positive signs in science and technology that will at least assist us here. This was also the key message of COP21 in Glasgow. The conference put a lot of emphasis on innovation and both governments and private industry seems to be committed to this approach.

At the same time, it is already too late to prevent many of the climate disasters which will see an increase over 2022 and beyond. Hopefully, new technologies will be able to assist in adaptation and in mitigating of the negative outcomes. Clean, smart energy will be one of the most significant drivers of innovation in addressing climate change.

As I mentioned, I don’t immediately see the new Facebook, now called Meta, taking over the world. At the same time, this will create a flurry of activity in augmented reality (AR) and vitrail reality (VR). Gaming will most certainly be one of the early adopters of this new trend.

5G will receive the most attention in the new year. This will remain the largest telco investment area for 2022. There will be two distinct developments here. One is based on internet of things (IoT) developments in the business markets. Here, 5G will increasingly be used for the development of standalone private networks. This will include edge and cloud computing developments. 

It is here that 5G innovations will be developed and tested. However, despite the industry hype that this will be the biggest thing of 2022, I don’t buy it. This is more likely to happen closer to 2025.

Developments in 2022 will be more along the current IoT applications such as asset tracking, remote monitoring and other industrial applications. Many of these applications require broad industry collaboration and for 5G platforms to enable this, they will need to be provided on a wholesale basis and telcos are still struggling with such a concept.

On the 5G consumer side, it will at least for the foreseeable future simply be an upgrade to 4G once customers contracts end. Mobile operators will also be among the first to look at the AR and VR opportunities mentioned above.

While I am addressing many technologies and scenarios here, the reality is that the overall strategies to deploy them either by telcos, digital companies or (business and government) users require a holistic approach. It is not about the technology or the hype of their developers but how we as individuals, organisations and societies deploy them.

If anything, what these developments so far have taught us is that there could be many unintended consequences and it requires the human brain to oversee all of this and it is often here that things go wrong, not necessarily with technologies as such.

Paul Budde

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