Alan Gatherer, Editor-in-Chief
Published: 12 Jan 2017
CTN Issue: January 2017
With the caveat that our ability to predict the hot technologies of 2017 is about as good as the average election pollster, the CTN staff and some of their friends (thanks in particular to Katie Wilson and Chris Rose) celebrated the recovery from their New Year's hangovers by putting together a list of the top technology trends for 2017. So here they are in no particular order. There is a comment section at the bottom and alternative or additive suggestions are most welcome.
Alan Gatherer, Editor-in-Chief
5G Sides Safely off the Hype Curve and Makes a Nice Boring Landing
This is the year we hope to see 5G make a nice safe entry into commercial use. In the USA it is expected to be in the space of Wireless to the home or more generally WTTx. We predict that everyone will feel better to see 5G make a little money.
Meanwhile Spectrum Allocation Becomes Not Boring
2017 will officially become the year when talking about spectrum policy at parties will become not boring. OK, so we have 5G and millimeter wave but that is not the most exciting part for the ordinary engineer. 2017 will provide us all with an opportunity to think of new ways to manage spectrum beyond the simple split of shared or owned. The pressure on sub 6G spectral use in particular will force us to start thinking more creatively in our attempts to achieve that 1000X "perceived" capacity goal. massive MIMO will allow us to manage interference spatially in a way we never have done before and allow new thinking in what it means to share spectrum in both frequency and space.
Internet of Things Takes off and We All Become Part of the Borg Collective
We predict that this is the year when your aging grandmother becomes wired into the cloud, if only for health monitoring reasons. Google already knows more about your travel habits than you do and this year will bring this kind of monitoring to health. If the recent CES show is to be believed cloud will pretty soon be telling you when to exercise, what kinds of food you like and how to comb your hair. All of this will require wireless comms of course, so we like it!
Driverless Everything, Take Me I'm Yours
By 2018 there will be several places in the world where being picked up by a driverless car will be unsurprising, if not commonplace. Drones delivering your packages also comes under this category and we may well be getting used to that by year's end. Certain highway transport modes, such as truck platooning may appear in 2018 but there is a long way to go before your community scraps its traffic lights and there is a lot of cool R&D to be done in the meantime. This year we should all watch the DSRC versus LTE debate. Combining this with IoT and health monitoring and the joke is that eventually you will ask your driverless car to take you to the donut store and it will take you to the gym instead, or maybe drop you off a half mile from the donut store and tell you to walk, while a driverless drone delivers you a package of health food you didnt know you wanted. Maybe it is too close to New Years to be objective on this topic...
Security, Privacy and Hiding Bodies in the Cloud
We woke up this morning to read about certain governments hacking certain other governments elections, but the real security issue for the wireless network is in how we are going to make IoT, and in particular things like vehicle and drone automation, secure, and what security we should even expect if we are willing to stick sensors all over our bodies and appliances. As a sign of this, the New Year brought us a story about police in Arkansas requesting the data from an Amazon Echo so they could work out what was said in a house right before a suspected homicide. Amazon said no but they got something off another appliance in the house anyway. How will this all work when we have 20 recording devices pumping data to the cloud on our bodies? Security and Privacy will be big issues in 2017 and so will the communications technology development surrounding them.
Distributed Ledgers, the End of Banks and the Beginning of a New Way to Run Networks
Bitcoin was 2015's best performing currency and crossed $1000 as we came into 2017. So apparently we don't need a government to have a currency. The reason is, we don't need a "trusted" 3rd party any more. And the reason for that is, in Bitcoins case, something called blockchain that is an example of a distributed ledger. But you can use distributed ledgers for all sorts of transactions and some people are talking up a whole new economy as a result. We predict this will start to leak into how we use our communications networks both in terms of applications and how the networks themselves are managed (for example in making spectrum allocation way more interesting as we mentioned above). We feel this is a year where such technology will start to make a noticeable impact, especially perhaps in emerging economies.
Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning to Boldly Go Where No Machine Has Played Go Before
Google's AlphaGo won its big game in 2016, they released an open source AI package called TensorFlow, and suddenly AI seems like big data used to be a couple of years ago. Now all sorts of people who don't know much about the theory of AI and Neural Networks are giving it a shot for all sorts of applications. The impression is that this enthusiasm will extend solidly into the wireless network management space, with AT&T saying in August of last year that AI was central to their Domain 2.0 management system. What other parts of the network will benefit from AI in 2017? We are betting we will all be surprised by what some folks try to do with it.
Put It All Together and Let It Live in a Smart City
We predict we will hear a lot about smart cities in 2017. This is the catch all phrase, for those of you just back from sabbatical on the ocean floor, for all of the above cool technology applied to making life better for all us urban dwellers. Your car will park itself, the traffic system will closely monitor traffic flow to minimize stop and go time at traffic lights, perhaps using information from your vehicle about where you are planning to go, your cell phone will talk to your bus (or automated driverless shared use vehicle) or train to get you from point A to B with the minimum carbon footprint in the minimum time. In the US the department of transportation set up a "smart cities challenge" and got a pretty enthusiastic response. All of this will require masses of wireless communications and network management of course.
New Ways to Communicate I: Molecular Communication Smells Good
Armies of nanobots swarming through the air, our waterways, our bodies or even within individual cells for various (hopefully helpful, but perhaps not!) reasons has long been the realm of science fiction. While developing the machinery for such nanobots is obviously daunting for a number of reasons, another perhaps even more important problem looms: how would such bots communicate? Getting small means the usual radiative methods (electromagnetic and acoustic) are difficult and inefficient owing both to impedance mismatch and medium absorption. Luckily, Nature has had eons to attack the problem of multibody coordination at small sizes and provides a glimmer of hope -- release and sensing of signaling chemicals by cells and organelles, the original nanobots. The emerging field of Molecular Communication seeks to quantify not only all the usual How much? How far? and How fast? issues close to communication theorists hearts, but also the actual How? that will enable the design and control of envisioned nanobot armies. The field is growing rapidly and maybe 2017 will be the breakout year, so stay tuned. Of course, molecular communication is not frequency-based, so maybe instead, stay sniffing!
New Ways to Communicate II: LiFi Lights the Way
Everyone is talking about the lack of radio frequency spectrum. One of the solutions to this problem is right over our head -- office lighting. Visible Light Communication, or LiFi as it is known, promises an additional avenue of data to your computer. The idea is that an LED can vary its intensity so quickly the human eye cannot see it, but a photo detector can detect it. LiFi is probably not suitable for uplink connections due to the clumsiness of having a light source projecting from your computer. But it can certainly supplement the vast amount of data we download in the forms of cat videos and other important documents. LiFi also has the advantage that it will not leak through walls, ensuring a fair amount of privacy to the intended user. How to integrate LiFi into existing WiFi connections is a compelling problem but its solution will promise more data to hungry customers. How to modulate, multiplex and handover LiFi data is still under debate in engineering circles and includes OFDM-based light intensity modulation schemes, though the IEEE standard 802.15.7 has defined a MAC layer as well as an On-Off Key physical layer. However the light is modulated and received, the future promises a green technology where office lighting does double-duty as a transmission source.
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