Over the past two years, many of us have experienced significant change, personally and professionally. As we enter the “new normal” – or really the “next normal,” because it, too, will evolve – it’s important to internalise what has happened to the technology-adoption cycle and the associated customer expectations, while also looking forward to what’s to come.
It starts with digital transformation, the megatrend affecting virtually all parts of today’s economy. All things digital are the essential enablers of the long-standing vision of “everyone and everything, connected.”
This enablement has been happening for a long time, and in many cases has followed a phased progression, starting with curious early adopters willing to experiment, and continuing on to acceptance by the cautious mainstream.
This brings us to the first effect of the pandemic on technology evolution: an acceleration of the classic adoption lifecycle. This broader and faster adoption of new technologies is in turn driving the second effect: No matter where or how you engage with digital transformation, customer expectations have changed forever. Impatient demands for instant access, constant availability, and zero lag are getting stronger and gaining urgency. These all fit inside the overarching goal of delivering a great user experience.
Now let’s take a look at the future of digital transformation.
There will be an insatiable demand for bandwidth
Demand for bandwidth continues to grow unabated, and it’s rising like a digital tidal wave. In today’s world, more devices are transmitting and receiving richer content: high-resolution images; 4K and 8K video; dynamic, interactive experiences like multiplayer gaming; and telemedicine.
Meeting customer expectation for next-generation wireless devices will require breakthrough innovations to deliver significantly reduced size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C).
The insatiable appetite for bandwidth and reliability has resulted in an explosion of complexity in the wireless infrastructure – both in the fixed plant and user equipment (UE). New RF bands, advanced modulation formats, and techniques contribute to the rise in complexity.
Nevertheless, consumers are unwilling to accept increases in cost or size of UE and demand even greater battery life. Achieving the necessary SWaP-C reductions requires a multi-faceted approach, including advanced packaging technologies capable of interconnecting hundreds of mmWave components while extracting unwanted heat, as well as breakthrough approaches in microcircuit fabrication.
5G will supercharge digital transformation
Through the end of this decade, the pace of transformation will continue to accelerate. In 2022, the wide-scale roll out of 5G will supercharge the speed of change with the removal of bandwidth constraints. Deployments, device certifications, and network roll outs will continue to scale, and as open radio access networks (RAN) mature, 5G deployments at scale will follow.
5G devices will be everywhere in 2022. The focus will be on new industrial IoT devices with improved latency and reliability. 5G coverage in rural locations will remain limited, and 5G-assisted autonomous cars (level 4) will not come to fruition in 2022.
Ongoing investment in 3GPP’s releases 16 and17, and beyond, will focus on new capabilities such as reducing latency, and improving reliability and positioning, which will facilitate new use cases in vehicular, industrial networks, and factory automation.
5G will enable the next stage of ubiquitous computing by distributing intelligence where it is needed, and improving efficiencies of every process through better control and reduction of waste.
6G: More is happening than you think
By 2028, 5G networks will be pervasive, realising the original vision of 5G by enabling vertical industries well beyond what we think of as “mobile communications”: like industrial IoT, digitised healthcare, smart cities, and extended reality applications that currently are just concepts.
The first commercial 6G networks will go live in that same year, paving the way for the convergence of the physical, digital, and human worlds through applications, computing and communications. This will finally create the internet of everything – or IoE.
The launch of 6G in 2028 will be enabled by research already underway, and will see increased investment in 2022 from academia, government, and industry. This research will outline how to make the vision around 6G a reality. 6G will make mobile communications a more fundamental part of our professional and personal lives.
Digital twins will change how we make products
As organisations strive to advance digital transformation, they will recognise the limitations of virtual systems and increasingly adopt digital twins. For example, in emerging industries like autonomous vehicles, manufacturers have no room for error, and with a digital twin, they can simulate every permutation and continuously refine the design.
Digital twins present a new way to approach design and simulation that is more efficient, practical, and meets the growing regulatory burden. Unlike a virtual model, digital twins update in real time with performance, maintenance, and health data from the physical systems, improving decision-making. To keep up with the pace of digital transformation, digital twins will become an essential part of product design.
AI, ML, and cloudification technologies will increasingly enable future networks
This will include core network transformation and improved mobility, as well as new software technologies that will increasingly enable telecommunications, including open RAN, 5G core network, and mmWave mobility.
AI will continue to transform testing, analytics, and automation
AI/ML is at the heart of automation, not just in running the tests, but in how we use the data to make informed decisions. It is far more efficient to move the algorithm to the data rather than move terabytes of data into the cloud, so we expect to see some advances that will help gain insight faster on data in movement.
With the increasing complexity of a digital-first world, testing code alone is not working. In 2022, code compliance will no longer determine if software can be released. This is especially true of the increasing number of systems that use “AI” technology and not all responses are deterministic, requiring “AI to test AI”. Intelligent test automation will be vital to ensure that our complex connected world performs exactly as needed.