Top Tech Predictions for 2016
The New Year is characterized by a crop of telecom predictions from many research firms, consultancies and industry observers. This year, there have been more articles predicting key trends in the industry than ever before, with tech forecasts enjoying a clear boom in popularity. This article briefly summarizes a few key trends apparent from this year’s projections.
In overview, the IT landscape transformation over the next five years will bring immense and accelerating disruption to the IT and telecom industries, bringing a new set of dominant vendors to the fore, to the disadvantage of legacy players, especially telecom operators and IT players. IDC forecasts that “by 2020, more than 30 per cent of IT vendors will not exist as we know them today”, or nearly a third of today’s vendors will be out of business due to mergers, downsizing and acquisitions (IDC, quoted by Bernard Golden).
Predictions for 2015 featured a few mainstream telecom predictions, alongside next-generation software, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data. This year’s predictions argue that science fiction risks becoming reality, with rising stars for Virtual Reality (VR), drones, wearables, ambient environments, cognitive and machine learning. Convergence is also strongly evident, with forecasts for mobile crossing over into the domain of Information Technology (IT), while a few telecom issues feeding back into the IT and Internet domains (most notably, the potential of 5G for underpinning IoT connectivity).
Experience suggests that people have a tendency to over-estimate the impact of technology in the short-term, but underestimate its impact over the long-term. The nature of New Year forecasts means that they deal mainly (but not exclusively) for 2016. Very few sources actually look back to check how correct they were last year – Deloitte, GP Bullhound and the FT are the obvious exceptions as sources which do carry out ‘due diligence’.
We are also seeing first crowdsourced predictions, with one tech guru using Twitter to generate predictions from a larger audience. Interestingly enough, only one article considers the sources of (and therefore influence over) their predictions – a rather tongue-in-cheek humorous article by IT Proportal. Rather skeptically, they forecast that tech predictions will lose value and ‘cease to exist by 2018’, as the hype and hubris around vendor tech predictions gain momentum. Based on what we have researched, this looks very unlikely!
Industry Overview: IT’s all about the Software
Table 1 provides an overview of a selection of some of the key predictions. Taking the industry overall, Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research forecasts that 2016 will see:
- expected declines in tablets and PCs;
- a flattening in the smartphone market;
- overall modest uptake for wearables and other new hardware categories; and
- the first examples of foldable/bendable displays in finished product prototypes — and maybe even the real products themselves.
Table 1: Summary of Predictions
|2013-2016||2013 and 2014 were the years everyone started talking about Big Data; 2015 was the year companies started using Big Data; 2016 is the year we shall gain insights from Big Data.||ITU|
|2016||1.5 billion smartphone upgrades during 2016||Deloitte (2015).|
|2014-2018||First trials of Google’s autonomous car, the Koala, began in 2014-2015. Observers suggest we’ll see the first fully autonomous cars successfully road-tested by 2018.||Google; PC Mag|
|2016||First bendable displays in finished product prototypes||Bob O’Donnell, Technalysis Research|
|Late 2016||FAA set to publish regulations for drones in US||FAA|
|2016-2018||Only 1% of all apps use cognitive services – by 2018, half of all apps will.||IDC|
|2017||First drone deliveries by Google, Amazon, Walmart and other players in the U.S.||Eweek.com|
|2018||Wi-Fi traffic is set to exceed all 2G, 3G and 4G cellular traffic combined||ABI Research|
|2019||10 billion devices capable of connecting to home routers will be installed in households worldwide by 2019||Wi-Fi Alliance.|
Bob O’Donnell suggests we are nearing the end of a “several decades-long run of hardware growth”. He considers that there will still be pockets of opportunity, but companies that have been primarily or even solely dependent on hardware sales are going to have to decide how they should evolve in an era of digital transformation based on software and services. Infonetics (2015) estimates that total global telecom service revenues grew by an anaemic 0.4 per cent in 2014, to USD 1.997 trillion, and should approach USD 2.1 trillion by 2017.
Indeed, the transformation of telcos into software companies was already predicted in 2014 at ITU TELECOM’s “Future Summit: The Future in Focus”, where one keynote speaker predicted that every company will effectively become a software company in future. Bernard Golden suggests that IT will go from being viewed as a cost centre to “infusing every part of an enterprise”. IDC (2015) suggests that in future, “operating at scale will be driven primarily by code”.
Keywords for 2016: Out with Embedded and Secure, In with Cognitive and Autonomous
Deloitte expects the trend of embedding cognitive technologies (especially machine learning, voice recognition) in enterprise software to continue through 2016, approaching ubiquity by 2020. Mastering “cognitive” is a must, says IDC, recommending making machine-learning a top priority for 2016 — lots of start-ups in the industry are already using cognitive learning to disrupt legacy business models. More advanced devices will run always-on, context-aware applications in the background, which will automatically collect data from multiple sources, adapt, learn, update and, in some cases, take action without inputs or guidance from users. Advanced machine learning systems can learn autonomously to perceive the world on their own.
Yahoo goes further, suggesting that entire companies could ultimately be built around self-running programmes, with business decisions being taken without human intervention. For example, the first decentralized organizations have already been developed for the Ethereum Frontier network, which allows bots to post jobs, find qualified workers, and pay them when the work is done using virtual currency. If this trend takes off, Yahoo observes “your next boss could be an algorithm”!
The Internet of Things (IoT) remains a popular prediction, common to many sources. Gartner identifies “the management, security, integration and other technologies and standards of the IoT platform as the basic capabilities for building, managing and securing elements in IoT”. The IEEE Computer Society notes that high levels of reliability, safety, security and usability are needed, as IoT must meet rapidly growing demand for applications including the smart grid, next-generation air transportation systems, intelligent transport systems (ITS), smart medical technologies, smart buildings, and smart manufacturing. Gartner emphasizes the seamless and continuous “ambient user experience” made possible by IoT.
Gartner (2015) forecasts strong growth in IoT, with 6.4 billion connected things already in use in the consumer sector by the end of this year (reaching 13.5 billion by 2020), while IoT will support total services spending of USD 235 billion in 2016, up 22 per cent on 2015. However, Gartner believes that “incomplete competing vendor approaches will make [IoT] standardization difficult through 2018”. PC Mag expresses concern that “the industry as a whole has no real plan to harmonize IoT in a way that really makes it work for consumer audiences, with most IoT companies and products acting… as standalone models that only have value by themselves”. IDC takes a sectoral approach, forecasting that “the most active IoT development will cluster around the manufacturing, transportation, retail, and health-care industries”.
According to Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research, the biggest innovations in IoT in 2016 won’t be on the technology side, but in business models and “how companies piece together solutions that make deploying IoT a win-win for all sides”. Emergence Capital considers that 2016 will be “the year when we will see the shift from middleware to specific applications”. John Strand says that it is difficult to see how IoT can be put to work for telecom operators, as “IoT connectivity is marginal for operators. IoT will be visible, and consumers will recognize it, but it won’t necessarily translate into revenue on operators’ income statements. This area will instead be exploited by integrators”. ITU launched an IoT Standards Study Group in June 2015 to develop standards for IoT and smart cities, and ITU and Cisco recently published a joint report, “Harnessing the IoT for Global Development” exploring use cases of IoT for development.
A few observers comment on wearables (sometimes viewed as a subsection of IoT). Research firm IDC estimates that worldwide shipments of wearable devices reached 76 million in 2015, up 164 per cent from 29 million units in 2014, and will reach as high as 173 million units by 2019 (representing a 23% CAGR over the last five years). While wearables were a hot topic going into 2015, and while they certainly made an impact this past year, a number of observers are generally agreed that wearables did not fully live up to expectations. The Apple Watch enjoyed reasonable success, but still lags behind Fitbit’s wearables in terms of market share. Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research thinks that the vast majority of wearables are still seen as accessories for fitness enthusiasts, rather than essential devices for mainstream consumers. With their forecast that “Wearables Go To Work”, Juniper anticipates strong growth in the enterprise market, with smart glasses, semi-independent smartwatches and a range of motion-sensing devices expected to roll in ‘deskless industries’ and government agencies in 2016, following successful pilots in logistics, field services, law enforcement and customer services over the last two years.
The potential of IoT to yield large volumes of data is also not overlooked. According to IDC, IT Proportal and Bernard Golden, “Big Data just got even bigger”, although a number of commentators are concerned by the privacy implications of this trend. Overall, the impression of reviewing the many comments on this is that 2013/4 was the year everyone started talking about Big Data; 2015 was the year everyone started using Big Data, and 2016 will be the year we’ll start to gain major insights from Big Data – although in some cases, a few firms are already achieving this (see Figure for Google’s analysis of global search interest in European migration). The IEEE Computer Society agrees it’s all about the data—storing it, retrieving it, moving it, accessing it, securing it and analysing it. According to IEEE, anyone looking for assured employment in the tech field should look into becoming a data scientist. Gartner hopes that the proliferation in advanced semantic tools should help bring meaning to the often chaotic deluge of “Information of Everything”.
Figure 1: The European Migrant Crisis – of Worldwide Interest
Global search interest in European migration (left); search interest in ‘migrant’ versus ‘refugee’ (right).
Source: Google “A Year in Search 2015” report https://www.google.com/trends/story/US_cu_ihJIcFEBAACT4M_en
Bernard Golden suggests rather optimistically that today there are few areas where Big Data is not being applied (especially when its associated fields such as machine learning and artificial intelligence are taken into account). Big data is transforming drug discovery, health care, education, language translation, and recruitment, among many other fields. According to IDC, today, only 1 per cent of all apps use cognitive services – by 2018, half of all apps will. This is a significant topic in the international arena – EU regulators will meet on 2 February to debate EU-U.S. data transfers following the demise of the Safe Harbour agreement in October 2015.
IT Proportal points out that just because more penetrating insights are possible thanks to super clever software that analyses every smartphone and web session, these insights are not necessarily needed – or used. Indeed, Emergence Capital observes that it is vital to understand which questions to ask and which outcomes to use. One is left wondering whether it is possible to have too much information in the hyperconnected world being built around us?
Mainstream Telecom Predictions
With regard to more mainstream telecom predictions, Juniper is the main firm (among the sample reviewed) to address the race towards 5G. ITU has started work on the standards for 5G, which should be finalized in 2020. In anticipation of standards, according to the IEEE Computer Society, 5G might promise speeds as fast as 7.5 Gbps, enabling growth in the industrial IoT and even faster gaming. Juniper (2016) observes that a host of stakeholders are already undertaking the first trials. KPN, Ericsson, Huawei and the research institute TNO are planning to test a 5G network in the Netherlands later in 2016. Ericsson and Softbank have teamed up for tests in Tokyo; ZTE has partnered with Korean operator KT to launch a 5G test bed in Seoul. Verizon Wireless is planning to field-test 5G next year and has set itself the ambitious target of launching commercial services in 2017. That is a very ambitious time frame – in reality, 2020 or 2021 looks like a more realistic target date for the launch of 5G according to the work of ITU-R’s Study Group on radio standards. In reality, 5G system specifications have yet to be defined, and until the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) formally approves the standards for 5G, any network claiming to be 5G is ambitious marketing hubris.
ABI Research covers Wi-Fi with its estimates that Wi-Fi offload traffic from mobile devices continued to exceed 4G mobile traffic in 2015. The Wi-Fi Alliance projects that Wi-Fi shipments are on track to surpass 15 billion by the end of 2016, and that over 10 billion devices capable of connecting to a home router will be installed in households worldwide by 2019. ABI Research predicts that by 2018, Wi-Fi traffic is set to exceed all 2G, 3G and 4G cellular traffic combined. In a recent market study, ABI Research, the leader in technology market intelligence, forecasts that rapidly increasing adoption of 4G and Wi-Fi will drive monthly in-building traffic to 53 exabytes per month by 2020.
And Back to the Future
It seems fitting to start a section with this title with a brief update on connected cars. Very real advancements are starting to take place in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), including automatic braking, lane-departure warnings and sophisticated cruise control, to name a few, offering significant safety benefits alone or in combination. Tesla has an Autopilot mode for its Model S sedan, but it is not for fully autonomous driving and only works under certain conditions on the motorway, not in urban areas. GP Bullhound believes that new technology implemented inside the car will prove a major influence in consumer purchasing decisions, pointing out that General Motors’ integration of CarPlay into 27 of its car models is being touted as a major reason for a recent jump in sales.
Nevertheless, while driverless technology is undoubtedly ‘en route’ (excuse the pun) and improving all the time, most observers believe that self-driving (or ‘driver
less’) autonomous vehicles are still some way off. Google’s own ‘autonomous car’, the Koala (see photo), and its fleet of modified Lexus RX450h experienced 272 failures and would have crashed at least 13 times (if their human test drivers had not intervened) during tests from September 2014 to November 2015. So, something of a way to go before these pioneer vehicles are awarded their full driving licence!
With regard to Virtual Reality (VR), both Juniper and TechCrunch believe that 2016 represents a ‘watershed’ year for VR, in terms of product launches and consumer roll-outs. Oculus, Sony and HTC are among the leading players expected to release major VR products over the next twelve months (the launch of the Oculus Rift headset is eagerly awaited in Q1 2016). Recent investments in the sector are helping to revitalize VR and lay the groundwork for rapid market expansion. Forbes drumrolls 2016 as the first full year that VR will prove a viable consumer product (although GP Bullhound limits this primarily to early adopters) and even the Wall Street Journal gets in on the act, forecasting that “2016 is the year many of us will have our first experience with VR”. PC Mag puts the timescale later, suggesting that “VR and Augmented Reality (AR) will be a game-changer for the overall PC, consumer electronics, and communications industries, just not in 2016”. Ross Gerber of investment advisory firm Gerber Kawasaki (published in Forbes) considers that “VR has the potential to completely upend a cross section of diverse industries beyond just video games – from movies, to medicine, to sports and education”.
Yahoo disagrees, pointing out the high costs of headsets, and identifying the major consumer use cases of VR as games and pornography. Emergence Capital suggests that the first applications for VR and AR in the enterprise will focus on supporting high-value workers (such as physicians) or high-value projects (such as oil rigs), as enterprises can justify the high cost of hardware in these situations. In a pivotal move likely to shake up the sector, Google has created a virtual reality (VR) computing division, and appointed Clay Bavor to run it.
Not everyone is on the VR bandwagon, however – GP Bullhound expresses the heavy caveat that “widespread adoption will take place once the VR experience becomes more seamless, headsets are aesthetically streamlined, more quality content is available, and the price of VR technology naturally decreases”. Don’t hold your breath!
Yahoo sees strong potential for AR to “beat up VR and steal its lunch money”. Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research agrees, expecting AR products (such as the Microsoft HoloLens, below) to have only a modest impact this year, due to their high price tag, but much greater longer-term potential, as they offer an entirely new means of interacting with digital data in a way that appeals to a much wider audience. He believes that AR will essentially constitute a new display method for computing.
Drones have also been a hot topic recently, in light of plans by Google and Facebook to broadcast Internet using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). In their aptly titled prediction ‘Game of Drones’, Emergence Venture Capital Partners predicts that “commercial drones will be big business”. In 2015, Deloitte took the middle ground with its forecast that drones will be “high-profile, but niche”. This certainly seems to have been borne out – by January 2016, over 181 000 Americans had registered themselves as drone owners with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which requires online registration of any drone weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds (drones above this weight are required to undergo an Aircraft Registry process). The FAA estimates that 1.6 million small unmanned aircraft were sold in 2015. Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins estimated that a total of 4.3 million consumer drones were shipped in 2015, up 167 per cent on the previous year. There are suggestions that drone deliveries by Google, Amazon, Walmart and other players could start as soon as 2017, provided the FAA publishes regulations this year. However, the FAA offers a separate exemption process for drones operating at under 200 feet, and by summer 2015, the FAA had already issued more than 1000 exemptions to companies in different industries seeking to use drones for applications including real estate photography, motion picture filming and agriculture.
GP Bullhound believes that “uncertainty around their regulation and current technical limitations will prevent drones from breaking out at mass scale this year” in 2016, pointing out that the FAA has yet to publish official regulations and that short battery life is likely to prove a major obstacle, even for the most high-end consumer drones. Yahoo foresees even more immediate danger, with its prediction that “anti-drone technology will rise”. Don’t like your neighbours spying on you? You may wish to consider investing in an anti-drone gun.
The example of drones proves once again that advances in the technology often precede – and may exceed – the capacity of regulatory frameworks to keep up.
Telecom and technology professionals have an interest in monitoring these developments closely to ensure that they stay abreast of developments in what is clearly a field that is evolving more rapidly than ever. One thing is for sure – the next few years are going to be exciting – hold onto your hats – and your VR glasses!
By Pippa Biggs
Pippa Biggs is Senior Policy Analyst and Content Coordinator of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development. She is lead author and editor of the annual “State of Broadband” report charting the latest trends in the global broadband industry. Pippa has previously worked for the World Economic Forum, UNCTAD and Deloitte.
 Page 19, Deloitte TMT Predictions 2016, available at: http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/Technology-Media-Telecommunications/gx-tmt-predictions-2016-full-report.pdf
 The job of data scientist just became the sexiest job of the 21st century, according to the Harvard Business Review. IDC disagrees, suggesting that “ “software developer” is the sexiest job of the 21st century. Enterprises will compete to hire for these essential jobs and software developers will be key for the creation of the new, revenue-generating, productivity-enhancing applications, tapping into the potential of new technologies (e.g., IoT) and embedding data analytics” – www.forbes.com/sites/gilpress/2015/11/10/transform-or-die-idcs-top-technology-predictions-for-2016/6/
 ABI Research Insider, 13 January 2016.
 ABI Research Insider, 13 January 2016.
 ABI Research Insider, 13 January 2016.
 Kleiner Perkins Internet Trends Report, May 2015.