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The next 12 months will see major advances in mobile networking and device technology, with mobile network operators (MNOs) beginning to incorporate elements of 5G architecture into their existing 4G networks, according to business consultancy Deloitte’s latest TMT Predictions report.
The 16th annual TMT report, which is produced by Deloitte’s technology, media and telecommunications practice, highlighted to a number of trends, and threats, that its analysts believe will heavily influence the world of technology this year.
The report said 2017 would see significant and tangible steps towards the launch of 5G mobile networks – still slated for 2020, with many enhanced 4G Long-Term Evolution Advanced (LTE-A) and Advanced Pro networks starting to incorporate components that will be core to 5G.
“The technology building blocks for 5G readiness are being deployed in 2017, and in some markets are already in place,” said Dan Adams, Deloitte lead UK partner for telecommunications. “By the end of 2017 more than 200 carriers will offer these ‘5G lite’ services across their networks, enabling hundreds of millions of users to access maximum speeds in the hundreds of Mbps.
“5G is likely to have a big bang impact. Its long fuse, which incorporates interim milestones in the forms of LTE-A and LTE-A Pro, has already been lit. 5G is undoubtedly a significant, complex upgrade following the culmination of many years of sustained upgrades to 4G networks.”
Adams predicted that by the end of 2017, about 200 carries worldwide were likely to offer some form of LTE-A across parts of their network, and around 20 should have LTE-A Pro networks. This means users will begin to experience some of the more important features of 5G networks, such as higher browsing speeds, lower latency, and better support for low-powered internet of things (IoT) sensors.
At the same time, said Deloitte, network strength and accuracy in indoor environments would become greater, with improvements to Wi-Fi equipment, beacon technology and mobile base stations giving users a better experience inside large or old buildings than they have received so far.
This will give rise to growth in indoor digital navigation, said Deloitte, which predicted that one in 20 uses of digital navigation tools would take place indoors this year, in environments such as large department stores, shopping malls or conference centres, where journeys may take place that are entirely indoors.
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The analysts said the potential for accurate indoor navigation could well be transformative, benefiting many vertical sectors, such as helping workers locate items in a warehouse or be on time for a meeting in an unfamiliar office.
The potential of precise indoor navigation is significant, and could be transformative. It is likely to benefit most vertical sectors, affecting government, business and consumers alike. Indoor navigation is also likely to be used for people and things, to locate items of value rapidly in a range of locations, such as tools in a workshop, goods in a warehouse, parts on a factory floor, or suitcases in the hold of a plane.
“We are all aware of the impact that satellite-based digital navigation, including the digitisation of street maps, has had on our daily way of living, and on business models,” said Ed Shedd, head of technology, media and telecommuncations at Deloitte.
“However, satellite navigation has one fundamental blind spot – its signals are often too weak to penetrate building roofs. Yet people spend over 90% of their time indoors. Billions of objects, from vehicles to tools to components, all of which may need to be located, are housed somewhere under a roof.
“Being able to locate people and objects when indoors is likely to add significant value, possibly at a level equivalent to, or greater than, the impact that outdoor digital navigation has had.”
Alongside the advances in network infrastructure, enhancements to the capabilities of mobile devices will continue to come thick and fast, and the TMT practice highlighted a number of areas where this will happen.
Biometric device security was identified as one key trend to watch out for, with the active base of fingerprint reader-equipped devices in the field set to top one billion early in 2017. Deloitte said each sensor would be used, on average, 30 times a day, and by the end of the year, 80% of users with a fingerprint reader-equipped smartphone would use it regularly.
Paul Lee, head of technology, media and telecommunications research at Deloitte, said: “Billions of smartphones and tablets are expected to be capable of processing and collecting multiple types of biometric inputs, including face recognition, voice pattern and iris scan in 2017, but usage of fingerprints will lead the way.”
Lee forecast that the rapid adoption of biometrics would also give rise to many more applications and services that would use the technology to authenticate users.
In the long term, he said, the concept of fingerprint security would become normalised, dominating other forms of biometrics, leading to increased adoption as users become more comfortable with the idea of using their fingerprints to protect themselves online, or even perform activities such as shopping.
Tablet sales to fall
However, the Deloitte research also corroborated the findings of others in forecasting that global sales of tablet devices would fall by about 10% from the 182 million units sold last year. It said that this fall, although relatively modest, suggested that demand was reaching a plateau, and that household adoption would end up being substantially lower than for other devices.
Deloitte found that 63% of UK adults had access to a tablet, but 81% had access to a smartphone and 95% to a desktop or laptop PC. When it came to whether or not people were willing to invest in tablet form factors, it reported that while 27% of consumers were likely to buy a new smartphone in 2017, just 15% of tablet owners were thinking of upgrading.
This slowdown might have something to do with the fact that the average useful lifetime of a tablet device seems much higher than that of a smartphone. Deloitte’s statistics purported to show that only 38% of tablets currently in use in the UK were bought in the past two years, while over 50% were pre-2015 models and over 25% were pre-2014.
“In terms of the preferred devices for various activities, there are three consumer devices that are leading tablets by a large margin – TVs, smartphones, and computers,” said Lee. “It seems unlikely that the tablet will ever displace these devices, although it will remain more ubiquitous than other recent devices, such as smart watches and fitness bands.
“With smartphones becoming larger and more powerful, and our research showing that millennials typically prefer laptops to tablets, it seems that the tablet may be getting harder to swallow for consumers.”