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Outlook 2021: Accelerated digitalisation

Neil Tyler

Despite the current pandemic, or because of it, many companies are accelerating their investment in 5G and embracing digitalisation.

According to research carried out by Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs a so-called ‘5G+ combination of edge computing, data analytics, and private networking’ are set to help drive rapid growth in the global economy, adding upwards of $8 trillion by 2030.

Their research suggests that spending on private 5G networks will actually outrun investment in traditional ‘public’ 5G cellular as companies and businesses look to invest in the digitalisation of their operations.

Described by Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs as a ‘5G+ ecosystem’, the development of these private networks are expected to support the digital transformation of ‘physical industries’ over the next ten years, transforming them into ‘augmented physical industries’, effectively putting their innovation drive, at last, on a par with already-mature digital industries.

So just what do they mean by ‘physical industries’?

Well, this includes factories, offices, smart cities, the broader public sector, transportation and healthcare.

5G networks, whether private or public, will bring together - in effect, acting as the glue that binds – the IoT, sensing technology machine learning and artificial intelligence, all of which will be supported by an ever expanding edge and cloud infrastructure.

Spending on edge and cloud hardware and platforms is set to soar over the coming ten years while investment in both private networks and AI (and machine learning) services is expected to match it – dollar for dollar!

Nokia Bell Labs says that the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ will spark a ‘big value inversion’ that will drive a revolution in safety, productivity, and efficiency, as well as in creating thousands of new jobs.

But it’s not just the industrial space that is being revolutionised - digitalisation is impacting every aspect of our lives, from how we are educated to our healthcare systems, from how we work to the way in which we engage with one another at a personal level.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been described by many as providing a turning point for physical industries and is helping to drive digital change.

In many ways, the pandemic is acting as a catalyst for the broad range of changes that were already seen to be happening.

According to Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs, the pandemic has significantly accelerated the process of digitalisation and enterprises and industries have reacted to the economic challenges of the pandemic with increased levels of investment as they seek to accelerate digitalisation.

In fact the pandemic has been described as a strong facilitator of creativity and innovation. Working practices have rapidly adapted, with many employees now working from home and in the UK, as elsewhere, there has been a push among companies to digitise their processes.

Unchartered waters for many, but for organisations successful digital transformation has been delivered against all the odds.

In a survey of UK business leaders it was found that almost half of the businesses surveyed had successfully migrated their offering online with similar numbers stating that the virus had prompted them to adopt a digital solution that they had previously been hesitant to embrace.

The pandemic has prompted many organisations to think outside of the box, to look beyond accepted norms, when it comes to delivering digital transformation and investing in new areas of technology that many have never used before, such as artificial intelligence or augmented reality.

Technology trends

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been profound but the overarching technological trends, that have been driving the industry for the past few years, remain much the same.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, drones, autonomous vehicles, extended reality and 5G and enhanced connectivity remain key drivers.

As Ivo Bolsens, Senior VP & Chief Technology Officer, Xilinx says in his contribution to this year’s Outlook 2021, “The world is becoming smarter. From the smart phones in our pockets to today’s smart cities helping manage traffic and transportation systems, Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming pervasive across nearly every industry and impacting all our daily lives.

“This infusion of AI is also producing huge amounts of unstructured data that must be managed and processed, often in real time. The demands on hardware are skyrocketing, placing increasing reliance on innovations in chip architectures to deliver the performance improvements necessary to keep pace.”

AI is undoubtedly one of the biggest tech trends at the moment, and during 2021 it set to become an even more valuable tool, helping to interpret and better understand the world around us.

As Bolsens makes clear, the amount of data we collect is set to grow exponentially, so machine learning algorithms will become better informed and more sophisticated in terms of the solutions they generate.

Self-learning algorithms will spot new and innovative connections and insights that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by manual human analysis.

The automotive industry has had a very tough year but prospects are bright as the automotive sector continues to embrace electrification and autonomous vehicles, as Mark Burr-Lonnon, Senior VP EMEA, Asia and Global Service, Mouser Electronics points out in this year’s Outlook 2021.

“What I find fascinating is how the industry will be structured over the longer-term. Will the OEMs like GM and Ford and the tier 1s like Bosch remain as the big players? Or will the tech companies emerge as new rivals? Whatever happens, there will be plenty of opportunities for electronics companies.”

Initiatives around self-driving vehicles and electrification are set to continue at an increasing pace, not only benefitting the private car driver but also being developed to enable more efficient public transport networks.

Covid-19 has also accelerated interest in robotics, especially in the care and assisted living sectors, and they are expected to become increasingly important.

Robotic devices are being used to offer in-home help, as well as provide companionship at times when it may not be safe to send nursing or care staff into homes, while drones are increasingly be used to deliver a broad range of different services from logistics to monitoring public spaces.

The pandemic could also impact the roll-out of Extended Reality (XR), such as Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Long talked about, although yet to really deliver at scale, these technologies could come into their own as a result of Covid-19 where potentially dangerous situations that could risk viral transmission could be avoided by using virtual reality – both education and healthcare could see developments in this regard.

Underpinning all these technologies will be 5G and other advanced, high-speed networks, whether that’s automation or real time data processing.

The rollout of 5G is accelerating with energy and utilities, mining, manufacturing, the public sector, healthcare and the transportation sectors; and companies based in Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the UK, and the US all looking at expanding or implementing 5G.

Companies that are at an “advanced level of 5G adoption” - classified as either in ‘expansion’ or ‘implementation’ mode - are said to be the only group to be experiencing a net increase in productivity (of over 10 percent) following the pandemic, and the only group able to maintain or increase customer engagement, according to the research conducted by Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs.

Many companies remain between initial planning, trials and deployment, while a growing number of large companies in advanced economies are set to invest in 5G over the next five years.

The breadth, depth and potential of 5G is immense in terms of the way society and business operate, and a growing number of organisations who are investing in the technology, via their own private networks, are already seeing clear operational benefits.

Author details: Neil Tyler is editor of New Electronics

Author
Neil Tyler

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