The next generation cellular network 5G took off at a phenomenal rate over the past year, with major telecommunications and mobile operators rolling out tests and trials of the fifth generation mobile system.
Although this year did not yet see vast adoption of the network, a number of mobile operators are expected to roll out subscriptions in 2019.
Global telecommunications firm Ericsson predicts that major 5G network deployments should be expected from 2020, with an estimate of 1.5 billion 5G subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by the end of 2024.
We can also expect an increased development of infrastructure and smartphone handsets to match. Deloitte Global predicts about 1 million 5G handsets will be shipped by the end of 2019.
Here are some of the predictions for the year ahead, according to industry experts.
"Despite the first deployments of 5G and the launch of the first 5G-compatible devices next year, we don't expect the impact of widespread 5G implementation to be fully felt in 2019," Andrew Fray, managing director at Interxion told Computerworld UK. "Instead, for many businesses, 2019 will be full of continued investment and focus into rearchitecting existing networks and infrastructure ready to host 5G networks."
As 5G becomes the de facto standard, allowing for new use cases with the industrial internet, IoT and the sending and receiving of data at much higher speeds, we can expect that 2019 will see manufacturers future-proofing their devices for the system.
"2019 will be more about the technology becoming fully standardised and tested, and future-proofing devices to ensure they can work with the technology when it becomes more widely available and Europe becomes a truly Gigabit society," Dave Russell, VP for product strategy at Veeam said.
Already, big-names such as Qualcomm and Intel are reportedly working on 5G modems to fit into smartphones, cars and smart-home devices.
On the other hand, mobile operators such as Vodafone, EE and Three have already rolled out a number of trials and development plans across the UK this year. Vodafone claimed to be the first to start its full UK 5G trials across London, Birmingham and elsewhere.
EE is expected to launch its 5G network within 16 UK cities in 2019, with multiple smartphone partners to support the rollout.
These are just a few examples, but we expect plenty of other vendors and mobile operators to rise to market in the following year too. Infrastructure companies like Ericsson and Huawei are already well poised to deliver the underlying technology that will support the network.
IDC predicts that 5G will be a key enabler of enterprise transformation in 2019, with over 70 percent of all 5G connections to stem from business use cases by 2024.
The growing list of 5G adopters does not yet clarify the market leaders for now, as consumers wait eagerly for the roll out of fixed wireless before making that judgement.
Despite this, there are a number of mobile operators holding onto the title of '5G first' as they race to deliver subscriptions at scale.
According to Ericsson, 2019 will be the year that 5G really takes off - with one of the first use cases being fixed wireless access (FWA).
"The initial focus of 5G is different in different markets," Stewart Lacey, 5G expert Europe & Latin America at Ericsson said. "Certainly l think the US is focused on fixed wireless access – connecting 38 million underserved citizens of the US – there's less of a focus on FWA in Europe, as a lot of the focus initially is on mobile broadband."
Ericsson, for one, claims to be the leading provider of 5G infrastructure hardware. Its partnerships vary from Juniper Networks to Swisscom and more, the majority of which were announced this year.
"2019 will see lots of 5G trials and claims of '5G firsts' but there will be no significant handset availability and very few, if any, mobile subscribers," William Webb, CEO of Weightless SIG added. "There might be some fixed wireless subscribers in the US, but that initiative will move less quickly than hoped."
In contrast, however, CCS Insights reports that China and South Korea take the lead for early 5G adoption. With western Europe lagging behind, the region is predicted to pass 100 million connections in 2023, compared to 1 billion connections in China by 2025.
"With the UK lagging behind international peers in full fibre rollout and only 3 percent of all broadband subscriptions currently enjoying fibre services, 5G wireless home broadband will help accelerate Three's mission to provide superfast internet to more people across the country," Three said in a report.
As the 5G adoption rates boom, the demand for SD-WAN is also expected to accelerate in the year ahead.
According to IDC, 80 percent of enterprises will have implemented SD-WAN at some sites underpinned by secure and virtualised edge architectures by 2020.
"More and more organisations will be embarking on digital transformation journeys in 2019, which means leveraging technology and processes that will transform their business. The rapid proliferation of cloud services and software-as-a-service applications is leading the majority to rethink their traditional approach to networking and remove outdated hardware," Yogi Chandiramani, technical director EMEA at Zscaler said.
SD-WAN is predicted to be an enabler for the implementation of 5G network connections.
"The key decision makers involved in implementing SD-WAN will begin to recognise that it does not mean deploying cheap and cheerful internet and cancelling expensive private circuits, but that it allows for a smarter network to be introduced," said Paul Fawcett, mobility product manager at Maintel.
The trend for smart cities, which evolved from much more than a simple buzzword over 2018, is expected to continue to grow, with a flock of hopeful smart developments in 2019.
According to IoT Analytics, smart city projects rank as the largest IoT segment, driven by the hundreds of recent smart city initiatives by vendors and governments around the world.
IDC predicts that over 30 percent of smart city projects will be tested in smaller cities of fewer than 200,000 inhabitants by 2020.
As smart city projects become more mature, we should expect an increase in the deployment of IoT technologies.
Public services, transportation, safety, sustainability, infrastructure and integrated smart functions are the main areas expected to see a boom in the rise of smart city use cases and applications, according to iScoop.
Chip designer Arm said in a report: "Expect drivers for smart cities to mature from just cost reductions to better citizen engagement and more revenue streams (e.g. red light violation detection, Wi-Fi hotspot, 5G services, smart towers, crime detection/ analysis, information broadcast) with the help of advanced technologies like computer vision and machine learning."
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According to research from McKinsey Global Institute, North America, Asia-Pacific and European countries are leading the way in the rollout of smart cities.
There have been a number of test pilots and infrastructure developments across these regions over the past year. In fact, London was listed as the top smart city government in the world for 2018/19 by the Eden Strategy Institute.
IDC also predicts that investment in smart city use cases will reach $158 billion by 2022, with the fastest overall growth in the Americas.
Overall, market researchers predict that the rise of mature smart city developments will see a shift from proof-of-concept and pilots to the development of projects to improve communities.
By the end of 2019, we could expect 40 percent of local and regional governments to use IoT to turn infrastructure like roads, streetlights and traffic signals into assets, IDC predicts.
Gartner defines smart cities as 'areas that combine business, residential and industrial communities which are being designed using intelligent urban ecosystem frameworks, with all sectors linking to social and community collaboration'.
In essence, this means smart cities are technologically led plans to create improvements in the urban built environment. According to IDC, major trends in the smart city space will impact urban areas for the next five years.
This means that by 2025 cities can deploy a range of intelligent mobility applications which have the ability to, for example, cut average commuting times by 15 to 20 percent, McKinsey Global predicts.
This also includes the development of smarter healthcare, transportation and safety. It is expected that the vast adoption of smart technologies in the next decade could contribute to safer urban environments.
"Our findings show that deploying a range of smart technologies could help to reduce fatalities by 8-10 percent and lower crime incidents by 30-40 percent," McKinsey Global said in its report.
From the above predictions, we can see the rise of 5G and smart cities are closely aligned with the expected growth in IoT.
In fact, over the next decade there will be an increase in the adoption of IoT technologies in the development of smart city infrastructure and 5G network trials.
"One of the most anticipated technology trends in the industry, 5G networks will usher in a new era for IoT, supporting an increasingly interconnected world that will drive IoT innovation further," DataArt said in a report.
Do we expect 5G to go to market in 2019? That's uncertain, but many of the pieces are in place, with the allocation of 5G spectrum auctioned earlier this year. However, we do expect to see a surge in the number of trials and smart developments across certain regions in the year ahead.