This is the time of year many of us editorial types stare deeply into our crystal balls to talk about what we think will happen next year. What makes this both interesting, and fun, is to observe the topics and the sometimes widely differing opinions and positions we take when we discuss this.
Many of these tend to be similar – a short, high-level, flyover across a wide landscape of many topic and there are a ton. That is useful, since it puts a quick read on these topics so one can get a quick picture of them.
Therefore, not wanting to be left out, I thought I would throw my hat in the ring. However, I am looking to narrow the field down to maybe a half-dozen, or so, of these topics, that promise to be the most disruptive, I want to look at them with a bit more depth, and address, what I believe, to be the one or two biggest spoilers that will affect their trajectory and traction. Then, at the end of the year, revisit and see how well, or poorly I did.
Applied Wireless Technology
There was a lot of talk in 2017 that 2018 will see 5G appear. Depending upon from whom you get your information, it is anywhere from already being here to being several years out; this in spite of the 3GPP ratification of the Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G New Radio (NR) specification.
I have been somewhat critical of the NSA-NR spec. While it offers a set of bounds that can be used as early guidelines, unless it becomes a very well adhered to spec and the NSA has the goal of becoming “S,” it can cause more problems than it solves. Lets’ be honest, it was only created because of the pressure to keep 5G on target.
We will see some 5G movement in 2018. The trick is to continue to separate the hype from reality. The fact remains that mmWave 5G is still in the development and trial stage and that segment, along with enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), will not be out in 2018. What we will be seeing is fixed wireless in the mmWave spectrum and some 5G-like deployments at lower frequencies where propagation is well understood.
However, there are spoilers:
· Show me the money – while some companies, like Qualcomm, are willing to develop 5G (or 5G-like) products, not everybody is in the same boat. There are many possible use cases for 5G, but most companies are not willing to throw a lot of money at it until they are reasonably convinced they are going to get some ROI. While everybody wants 5G, it is still a bit nebulous as to what, when, how and where.
· While the need for additional spectrum and densification is definitely an issue, there are several advancements and emerging platforms/technologies, in existing systems, that are picking up some of the slack (carrier aggregation, small cells, MIMO, network slicing, network functions virtualization and software defined networks, etc.). These can be applied, to some degree or another, to 4G networks. There is also some new spectrum coming on line (not enough, but it helps).
· Second spoiler is NSA-NR. It is also nebulous, even though a rather impressive list of companies has signed up for it, because some of the big players are absent. How many of those, if any, will commit to it in 2018 is yet to be seen.
So, while 5G will, certainly, be a hot topic in 2018. Exactly how far and what segments of the platform will deploy, however, is uncertain.
Security is a universal concern. I do not see a universal shakeup in the security segment in 2018 unless there is a major breach of some sort. By that I mean an attack on some critical infrastructure component (power, transportation, satellites, the internet, etc.). Luckily, this country’s infrastructures are fairly well secured at a high level, but much of its hardware is old and patched. This works against the best efforts to secure it, and offers many opportunities for compromise.
It is also fairly decentralized and segmented (unlike smaller European, Asian and African, etc., countries where everything and its control is in one place) so even a major attack isn’t likely to bring the entire segment down. However, attacks are becoming more sophisticated, and 2018 is likely to see much wider and more coordinated attempt to disrupt major infrastructure. That will permeate across a much larger attack surface. The worst-case scenario is a coordinated attack against many individual entities to produce an order of magnitude greater end result.
On the commercial side, a recent statistic claims that 90 percent of businesses do not feel they are adequately prepared for a cyber-attack. Of that, 70 percent say they cannot either find or allocate sufficient resources to fully staff and fund the security vector. Therefore, this sector is beginning to look to cloud computing as a both a permanent and temporary solution.
The residential sector has a slightly different challenge While a breach on a business levies a substantial cost and affect a large cross section of people and resources, a breach on a consumer target is much more contained and affects far few components, initially. Moreover, the majority of such attacks are because these grades of devices just do not come with anything other than basic, easily compromised security, if any.
Security will gain orders of magnitude of eyeballs in 2018. It will become more and more visible as other technologies, platforms and ecosystems evolve, but it will remain behind the curve unless a pandemic or catastrophic cyber breach of unprecedented proportion occurs.
Major spoiler here is inaction. Many entities (both people and organizations) still do not see security as a top priority – simply because it has not happened to them. There are some exceptions; military, government, cloud players, etc. who are on it more than others are. However, for consumer, medical, smart home and devices and platforms used by players who are not as on it, ratchets up the level that can be exploited.
Whether 2018 makes significant strides in cybersecurity is anybody’s guess. It really depends on how cybersecurity is, or is not, taken seriously by ALL segments, industries, players and platforms. Considering the movement in both 5G and the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX), until that happens, the risk to the whole is much greater than the risk to the parts.
The biggest disrupter of 2018 will be blockchains, mainly due to the proliferation and movement of cryptocurrency.
Anybody who has followed the wild ride of Bitcoin has to recognize that cryptocurrency will cause a major disruption in the currency landscape. This has just begun and 2018 will see a myriad of changes come about. Not that hard currency is going away any time soon, but cryptocurrency will become a force to reckon with. 2018 will see cryptocurrency gain significant traction and widespread acceptance.
Blockchains are the engine behind cryptocurrencies; thusly they will see significant traction, as well. From the IEEE’s electronics360: In short, a blockchain consists of one digital ledger that is distributed across the network (the blockchain). All transactions are logged with the time, date, amount and participants, and grouped together with other transactions that happen within a certain time frame. Those transactions are identified with a mathematical computer-generated code, and linked to the previous block of transactions.
A blockchain’s characteristics include:
There is a huge fog of uncertainty around these platforms, especially with mobile payments. Not what they are but how they are going to fit into today’s society. These are uncharted waters for the mainstream, although there is a wealth of knowledge of their functionality in certain area (the dark web, for example).
The next 12 months will see the traditional financial infrastructure take a hard look at cryptocurrencies. Banks and regulators realize they are here to stay so M&A’s will begin to broaden. As well, applications will begin to appear and the benefits of them will become attractive to many players. Security will improve, wallets will replace exchanges and rules and regulation will be a top priority. How long it will take for all of this to play out is unknown. For example, the latest 451 Alliance report on digital wallets shows slowing of adoption, of them by consumers.
The spoiler here is the chaos in the platform and how long it will take these issues to sort out. The coming year may not, likely, see this segment move as fast as some predict. The reasons for that is that there are literally hundreds of different cryptocurrencies out there and more on the way. How to apply a universal set of rules and create order from chaos, in the segment, is a real challenge. 2018 will start to sort that out. Additionally, a significant spoiler vector is the lack of regulation. That is a major issue that has to be resolve before cryptocurrencies go mainstream.
Nevertheless, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. It is just a matter of when they go mainstream.