A belated look ahead at 2015

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Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third-party contributors to submit analysis on a key topic affecting the telco industry. In this article technology author Dean Anthony Gratton provides his view of what 2015 holds for the telecoms industry. 

Okay, so I haven’t been ‘first to press’ with my ‘tech radar’ intuition, and other industry pundits have certainly pipped me to the post with their seemingly all-knowing telecom predictions for 2015 – well, I didn’t want to be predictable (excuse the pun) yet here I am with my tuppence worth. Is it too late to wish everyone a happy New Year?

The world according to Apple

Let’s kick off with Apple: as we already know, Apple launched their new iPhone last year and it offered the promise of what would become the electronic wallet; not a new idea and it certainly has remained an elusive feature with consumers, although it’s been touted for many years. In fact, both Samsung and Google already have their individual versions of the ‘e-wallet,’ but it seems that no-one sits up and takes notice until the big ‘A’ ventures into the same domain. With Apple Pay, to be launched in the UK and across Europe this year, consumers will soon be able to make electronic purchases with their iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.

“[NFC is] the magic wand of wireless technologies: a simple swish of your NFC-enabled device can gain you access to buildings, cinemas, and subways, and another swish or two can allow you to make a payment and even to simplify connectivity with other wireless technologies.” (The Handbook of Personal Area Networking Technologies and Protocols, Cambridge University Press, 2013)

It’s taken Apple some time to realise that Near Field Communications (NFC) was the right wireless technology to enable their wallet and, I suppose, better late than never! As for NFC in 2015, we will start to witness consumers becoming increasingly aware of the technology, but it won’t be until much later, 2016 and onwards, where consumers will begin to make a psychological shift and start voicing the technology as a verb such as, ‘touch’ or ‘just touch’. NFC is long overdue and, courtesy of Apple, it will (I hope) begin to strut its stuff.

Small cells and VoLTE

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) had such momentum last year too. If you like, a strange buzz surrounded yet another term, although I’m not quite sure where the ‘industry’ wants to take this since any call, over any medium, is surely sufficient, right? What’s more, not all areas across the UK are enjoying 4G cellular connectivity as it’s somewhat ‘patchy’. A recent government incentive purported that the UK must lead in cellular connectivity and all operators should indeed suitably collaborate to ensure that the ‘not spots’ and similarly rural areas are adequately covered. Okay, this is my first post of the New Year, and I really, really want to remain positive, but cellular operators across the UK ‘collaborating?’ Oh how I laughed out loud and fell off my chair!

On a more serious note, I think that operators are looking at VoLTE and Wi-Fi, as a suitable combination, such that if a call is made over the standard network, VoLTE, can switch to a Wi-Fi connection and vice-versa, but early reports suggest that this ability to seamlessly handover needs additional tweaking prior to launch. This will indeed alleviate consumers experiencing that ‘dropped’ call effect, something that often besets most of us at one time or another, since the UK isn’t quite there yet in terms of national coverage.

Our expanding network

The small cell forum is also looking at smalls cells as a technology to overcome both coverage and capacity issues that have historically plagued network operators. You see, consumers and businesses are placing an extraordinary amount of strain on an infrastructure that wasn’t originally designed to provide data. You may recall, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was initially architected to offer voice, but it was later extended, when the shift from analogue to digital communication occurred, to provide data connectivity. You could achieve as much as 9.6Kb/s, although dial-up didn’t fair that much better with its theoretical 56Kb/s.

The lacklustre and somewhat stagnant uptake of small cells (or femtocells) for operators who blatantly use the technology as a band-aid solution to alleviate the overwhelming growth in data consumption, must leave them scratching their heads- although, again, the government initiative where the same operators collaborate may help towards establishing a connected Britain. Of course, with new eco-friendly buildings being built on a daily basis, it’s said that signal penetration is becoming increasingly difficult and, as such, small cells will continue to ensure that consumers, albeit within a building/enterprise arena, will continue to enjoy their cellular connectivity. But, arguably, who should pay for this?

5G cellular, seriously?

All of us have our little gripes. For me, it’s when the industry is happily running along in its merry stride lost in some kind of closeted reality and seemingly more focused on inflating their bank balance than delivering what was promised. This merry stride and closeted reality is something we often affectionately refer to as ‘hype’. And with this in mind, it seems pertinent to mention 5G.

Last year, the UK saw most cellular operators tout their 4G services but, alas, not all areas across the nation are enjoying that faster connectivity. Yet, if we are to believe everything we read, we are apparently trundling towards a 5G proposition. LTE-Advanced was a vision originally architected by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) where the organisation envisaged a true wireless broadband experience – that is, consumers could enjoy shared speeds of up to 1.5Gb/s on their smartphone devices. Okay, the organisation’s ideas have shifted or perhaps adapted and, likewise, the goal posts have been moved. In short, the current 4G offering is nothing more than a wishy-washy attempt to deliver a speedy experience. In fact, I have an iPad with both Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity – I always seek the Wi-Fi access point in the knowledge that I will achieve a faster connection. Call me old-fashioned, and please don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for progress, but shouldn’t we focus on delivering what was promised to consumers with 4G or is this simply, as good as it gets?

The IoT supposition

You may already know that this subject probably narks me the most. It’s received an amount of hype that’s just too much to digest and understand. Likewise, we have seen similar terms bandied around such as, ‘Internet of Everything,’ ‘Internet of People’ and ‘Internet of Cars’ to name a few. First and foremost, we don’t need everything connected to the blasted Internet!

So, what does the Internet of Things (IoT) v2015 have in mind? Firstly, I’m sure we will continue to witness an industry always eager to deliver the next best thing (naturally). I’m equally sure that we’ll see numerous research groups predict an unprecedented spending pattern with an unimaginable uptake of millions on millions of devices that will be deployed to enable the IoT.

Rather, what I’d like to see in 2015 is the industry taking a methodical approach as to what the IoT can provide the consumers and industry alike. For example, predictive maintenance was something I touched upon in an earlier post, but as it falls under the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) category, I guess we’re still finding our feet. I want to look at 2016, knowing that we’ve ceased the hype-gate of IoT and instead, begun to deliver a realistic vision of a technology that becomes both beneficial and helpful to our everyday lives.

Until next time…

We had CES and, for some reason, I expected a little more fanfare. Nonetheless, in a few months, at the beginning of March, we have the Mobile World Congress, which I hope to attend and, equally, I hope to see a little more of the fireworks that, I felt, were missing at CES. For me, I just can’t wait…

So, this is where Dr G, starting the New Year as he means to go on, signs off.

TheNewDrGWithFedora(head-original)Dr Dean Anthony Gratton is a bestselling author and columnist, and has worked extensively within the wireless communications R&D industry. His wireless research work has been patented. You can contact Dean at telecoms@deangratton.com and follow him on Twitter (@grattonboy) to enjoy his risqué humour, witty shenanigans, social media and technology-related tweets. You can also read more about his work at deangratton.com.

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