Reading the runes
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

The wireless industry has plenty of exciting predictions for 2020 – as Sam Fenwick discovers.

If there is one thing that has fascinated us as a species, it is the future course of events. While we have grown in sophistication since the days when generals would consult the omens on the eve of battle (much to Sun Tzu’s chagrin), prediction is still a hit-and-miss affair. For this reason, it is always worth paying more attention to the direction of ‘travel’ indicated by industry experts rather than precise timings or numbers. That caveat made, let’s kick off with a few eye-opening predictions from CCS Insight.

It expects that by 2021, a Premier League football club will launch a facial-recognition ticketing system and that: “Facial recognition will become an acceptable and widespread method of authentication for organisations not affiliated with state or local authorities by the end of the 2020s.” It also predicts that next year will see the smartphone market hit by the oversupply of 5G smartphones, which will cause their prices to plummet. “Competition among semiconductor suppliers and the advent of second-generation chipsets [will drive] down prices even further in 2020. The additional impact of subsidised devices accelerates uptake of 5G subscriptions, especially in China and Japan.”

The company also expects that by 2021, Amazon will buy 5G mobile spectrum for its own use in at least one market. “This [will allow] Amazon to take end-to-end control of the technology when using it for various applications.”

There are also private networks to consider – Tim Cull, head of business radio at the Federation of Communication Services (FCS), said at FCS BR’19: “There was general agreement that the growth of customer demand for value-add services in the mission-critical arena [with a high level of resilience and availability] is now starting. This means that data systems will be needed. Business Radio is more of a philosophy than any particular technology. We believe that controllable private systems are more likely to meet the operational need. A private, hardened LTE or 5G system would likely meet many users' needs, for example."

Staying on the subject of private networks, Dr. Derek Long, head of telecoms and mobile, wireless and digital services at Cambridge Consultants, predicts their numbers “will grow, driven by the interest from businesses. Reliable, small-cell networks, combined with edge computing and connected products, will lead to greater interest in services such as robotic manufacturing and process control.”

Anatoli Levine, director, products and standards at Softil, says: “There is every chance that the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) [over in the US] will rise in prominence over the next few years. CBRS has the potential to displace Wi-Fi for many applications, such as in-building access, enterprise communications, and industrial IoT. CBRS technology is the ultimate enabler of private LTE deployments where [they make] sense – airports, utilities, seaports, mines, and more. That’s why the Samsung S10, the Google Pixel 3 and the iPhone 11 all support Band 48.”

Long adds: “Enterprises will rely on a variety of web, aaS, cloud and edge infrastructure. This will be eased by the adoption of advanced SDWAN-like network architectures, which will pave the way for network slicing. AI-driven network automation will enable and simplify advanced, secure services.”

Regarding smart devices, CCS Insight predicts Samsung will launch Galaxy Glasses in 2022, which will offer “a wide variety of capabilities, including video viewing, audio, notifications and turnby-turn directions within users’ line of sight. In 2023, Apple’s first augmented reality glasses arrive using a new VisionOS platform.”

Softil’s Levine says: “[Voice assistants] will continue advancing in the office space. However, there is more work to be done to enhance trust, reliability and usability of voice as the sole user control option for mission-, or even business-, critical scenarios. But efficiency and convenience needs will trumpet all obstacles.”

Per Lindberg, CEO of Ranplan Wireless, predicts that one of the key themes at next year’s Mobile World Congress will be the future of open interfaces/open RAN – a movement being championed by the O-RAN Alliance. The driver behind this is mobile network operators’ desire “to be able to combine different providers/vendors with equipment which would all be interoperable”.

Long adds: “Interest in open-source network technologies will accelerate. This will be driven by the initial deployments to test the performance of the technologies and the capabilities of the vendors and systems integrators required to combine the various elements. This trend is driven by successes with Rakuten in Japan and recent initiatives by Vodafone and Telefónica.”

All change for DAS

Crowley Wu, vice-president of Zyxel Networks, says the big theme for distributed antenna systems (DAS) in 2020 will be consolidation: “The industry will evolve into third parties supplying multi-operator solutions to entire buildings. Building owners and third parties will take over investment and management. In essence, we will have DAS Neutral Hosting.”

He claims that “this trend will render small cells obsolete as DAS replacements, due to their single-operator/ dual-band limitations. The DAS industry will move towards systems that can accommodate four or more operators simultaneously, with each operator using (portions of) two or more bands to accommodate different technologies. To do that, new DAS systems must support full band service on multiple bands, a full range of technologies (from 2G/3G to 5G), and the ability to specify set portions of specific bands for all transmissions.”

Wu adds that while passive DAS currently holds around 90 per cent of the global market, given “5G’s far higher frequencies and MIMO requirement – both of which are beyond passive DAS abilities – passive will not be an option for 5G. This means that if the world becomes dependent on 5G, we will be walking into the greatest DAS upgrade cycle in history. We predict a global transition into 5G from 2020 to 2025. During this time, any competitive DAS system will work with both 4G and 5G, likely with 2G and/or 3G thrown in.”

Ranplan’s Lindberg adds: “The large capacity of a DAS is well suited to venues such as stadiums. But DAS is not designed to support a small number of users and a single carrier, where small cells may be the better choice. For large deployments, it is much less expensive to deploy a DAS for in-building coverage than to deploy dozens or hundreds of small cells. We will see the start of a ‘rush indoors’ by operators in the next 12 months – in particular in hotels, malls, stadiums and campuses, etc. By 2030, we expect that in industrialised parts of the world, this figure will reach around 10 per cent with 5G connectivity in millions of buildings.”

At the client’s service

Turning to enterprise mobility, Gary Lee, chief revenue offi cer, B2M Solutions, expects Android will continue to expand in the enterprise while iOS falters, citing the former’s “wide array of choices in rugged and consumer-grade devices available from a variety of manufacturers”, while “iOS is only available from Apple, [which] is only producing consumer-grade devices”.

He adds: “Consequently, OEMs are now off ering extended support for devices chosen in the Android space, guaranteeing the enterprise three- to five-year support for the device and Android operating system chosen. Apple continues to not offer any [such] reassurances to the enterprise.”

Finally, Lee predicts traditional distribution networks for purchasing devices will collapse. “Declining prices and margins combined with an increase in offerings from master distributors and VARs [value-added resellers] means an enterprise can get all its mobile needs from a single source. This may result in more aggressive pricing to enterprise customers in the short term.”

With so much happening at once and the pace of roll-out and change increasing, the only certainty is that the next year (and decade) will be filled with surprises.

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