5G, IoT, Services (vs. Apps), Over the Top (OTT), Smartphones, App Layer vs. OS Layer, Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) are hot mobile topics for 2018. There’s a number of new breakthrough developments that will make 2018 our best year yet in mobile and wireless.  

As we enter 2018, there are a number of exciting areas in which we’ll see tremendous development or even exciting innovation. Here is my list of the most exciting trends in mobile and wireless for 2018:

1.     5G – We are now entering the world of 5G cellular. It will provide many services not possible in 4G such as much faster download to support watching 4K videos and movies, support for narrowband used particularly in IoT, support for multiple bands aggregation for special cases where very high bandwidth is needed. It will take many years for 5G to be the standard that you get in an iPhone or Android smartphone or tablet, but within a few years you’ll wonder how you ever go along with 4G. In 2018, you’ll be reading a lot about trails that will then yield full scale rollouts in 2019/2020. And you can bet that there will be a number of innovative offers by not only the operators but also service and app providers.

2.     IoT – The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most all-encompassing brands to have been created in information technology. It has consumed laptops, tablets, smartphones, wireless sensors, distributed low bandwidth networks and much more. Whereas many enterprises were studying or doing trials last year, this year will see many deployments and case studies of those that succeed (and incur problems). Does your organization has an IoT strategy? If not, it would be wise to get one before you are ‘left in the dust.’

3.     Services (vs. Apps) – We all know what apps are – there are over a million of them in the Apple Store and likely more than 50-100 on your smartphone. But what exactly are ‘services’? Certainly a wireless operator like AT&T and Verizon provide services to deliver content to your smartphone. Services beyond that are a little more difficult to understand. Often, services are a new kind of app that is really a conglomeration of data from many apps. Another way of thinking of them is to call them ‘Super-apps.’ But, often a service is where a third party builds a valuable ‘service’ that’s built into the operator’s network. PrivacyStar is a service to block all unwanted calls (simple in concept, quite difficult to actually do). They are working with network operators to build and then roll out their service to all of the wireless operator’s subscribers either for free or as a value-added service. We’re just now at the stage where entrepreneurs are able to think of such services and the operators with their new software-defined networks (call SDNs) can easily facilitate such new offerings. Wouldn’t you sign up for a service at a low monthly fee to manage your stream of calls? I know I would. (Note: I have done prior work for PrivacyStar but I do not have any equity interest in the company).

4.     OTT – Over the Top (OTT) used to be an acronym that nobody understood as in “What the hell does OTT mean anyway?” Now, it seems to be driving so many changes in the way people receive digital content such as movies, TV shows and other video programming. In a way, one of the first OTT players was (and still is) YouTube, the collection of video content that is delivered to your preferred device over wireless networks. Then, initial OTT systems faltered but Netflix changed all that. Now, even cable providers are beginning to offer OTT content bundles. OTT has driven Comcast to buy NBC Universal, AT&T to buy Time Warner, Verizon to buy AOL & Yahoo and, more recently, Disney to buy (most of) Fox. Content acquisitions will continue in 2018. One of the needs under the new world of content being provided through (mostly) subscription packages is to give users a really good directory and search capability so they can find what content they most want to consume.

5.     Smartphones – In the last 10 years since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the smartphone has gone from an innovation to almost full market saturation. Look around, do you see anyone who doesn’t have a smartphone? I used to think that 13 was about the youngest anyone should get a smartphone, but that barrier has been broken. Now, it’s more like 8. Some have two (one for work and one for personal). Research shows that on average, people check their smartphone over 100 times a day. Mobile advertising has now past print advertising. But, as the market has become saturated, it alters the market dynamics from initially selling to first time buyers to, now, selling primarily to upgrades with new users coming from young people entering the market. Although the smartphone market is still growing in large markets like India, Indonesia and South America, it’s not a high growth sector for the US. And, that represents a challenge for companies like Apple that demonstrated meteoric growth in the last 10 years but will be limited to upgrades a small growth in new uses over the next 10 years? With that said, companies like Apple and Samsung will have to focus on generating new, incremental revenue from content and services. That’s why Apple reports the services sector in their quarterly reports. Yes, the Apple X is innovative and likely the form factor that will become standard in a few years, but the high growth comes from what is delivered through the smartphone rather than the smartphone itself.

6.     App layer vs. OS layer – I reported in my last Mobilocity newsletter about Apple launching a program for developers to help them develop apps across both iOS and MacOS. I pointed out that this results in giving users a common overall experience through the ‘app layer’ rather than the OS layer. The OS is still important, but from a user perspective they will spend more times in Apps and not worrying about the OS. It changes the thinking from “How do I get something done?” to focusing on simply doing it through apps and services.

7.     Augmented Reality (AR) – Can you even remember now the Pokémon craze that began in July 2016 where all sorts of animation was integrated into your camera as you pointed it in various directions? While that craze is long gone, the underlying technology has vastly matured to become one of the major areas of mobility in 2017/2018. There now major efforts going on in AR used in the enterprise: Note Meridian AR which has used mixed reality to provide valuable solutions in the enterprise. Using the camera on your phone happens for most of us multiple times a day, and mixing valuable information with the camera image will become common and almost expected in 2018 in both consumer (games) and enterprise.

8.     Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning – I studied artificial intelligence during my Ph.D. program at Stanford about 100 years ago. These initial efforts formed a foundation for helping machines to think more like humans. Most every board game like Go, checkers and chess have been conquered by not just faster computers but also ways to solve problems better like chess with better thinking than people can do. Machine learning is an outgrowth of AI that focuses on the process of learning – how to take information, learn from it and make better decisions later. This sector of information technology sees mind-boggling advances in areas such as facial recognition: let the system know what you’re looking for a few times or classify things a few times, and machine learning can take off and do it successfully thousands of times faster than any human can do it. Plus, the system gets better at doing it over time using machine learning. While this is a big category with lots of interesting new areas of development, we’ll see some of this ‘pour over’ into mobile.

9.     Virtual Reality (VR) – Have you had a chance to put on a VR headset and look around from left to right? It’s a bit unnerving. And, if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself dizzy from the experience. VR has a great deal of potential in ways that will simply amaze you. The most difficult part of getting VR to work is the computing power necessary to make the images keep up with your moving of your head to view from one area to another especially if there are other creatures (or people) who are moving as well. Google found a simple way to do VR in an Android smartphone: they did all the calculations in the cloud and let the user look at the screen using a simple low cost cardboard ‘headset.’ It’s not elegant like many full-featured headsets but it demonstrates the concept. There’s a lot of benefit in medical training (allowing the physician-in-training to observe a procedure in 360 degree view). It can train you to manage hazardous waste so you can get the procedure down pat without really blowing yourself up. You can’t wear it out in public or drive although there can be simulations of both. The VR software environment is really in its early stages. It takes a lot of engineering and creativity to make an enticing environment. Stay tuned here as I think VR (which some call the ultimate in mobility) as success stories start demonstrating the viability of VR.

10. Self-Driving Cars (and Truck, Trains and Planes) – I think that 2018 is will be a watershed year for self-driving cars. We’ll actually see trials of self-driving cars in a number of cities. However, be careful about early claims of success here. Yes, eventually (like in 3-5 years), a lot of cars will be self-driving. But, there are still some stumbling blocks to be overcome. One Uber driver told me about showing up to pick up a passenger, and a woman told the drive to put her wheelchair into the trunk. Self-driving cars don’t handle that request very well. Neither can it handle they handle making a quick side trip at Krispy Kreme or McDonalds. And, handling roadwork can be challenging. I can self-drive (or perhaps better to say I can let the car drive itself) on the Interstate, but then getting off the main road is just not easy or safe with most cars with Super Cruise Control systems. I want to end this by suggesting that we should add ‘crash avoidance’ in all cars, trucks, trains and, yes, planes. That will make for a safer world the quickest. Over time, network intelligence and databases will provide enough assurances that your car can make it from point A to point B without stopping and asking for help. Please don’t have over-expectations here. Be patient, and the world will be a safer place for all of us and the vehicles in which we ride.

Strategic insights
There were a number of strategic insights in each item above. My final comment about mobile in 2018 is to realize change and improvement are going to happen every year. We’re never done improving and getting better – both as people, and in the systems we create.

There is certainly a ‘craze’ over speech-based assistants like Echo with Alexa and similar systems from Google, Apple, and others. While these have an initial ‘cool’ effect using them, I think the real benefit comes as more accessories are managed and controlled by these systems. This is part AI, part IoT, part home security and part things we can’t think of just yet. Sure, get one and get used to using them and then get other things to connect and you’ll see how far these voice-based assistants can go.

Happy New Year everybody. Have a great 2018!

P.S. I loved the icon for 2018 – feels like it is coming on in a mad rush!

The post Analyst Angle: Ten 2018 mobile and wireless forecasts and trends appeared first on RCR Wireless News.