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Enterprise mobility trends 2019: Mobile World Congress reporter's notebook

by Dan Sullivan

Wireless connectivity with 5G will finally become a reality, edge devices gain intelligence and other enterprise mobility trends for 2019.

Clearly technology is paving the way to major changes and innovation.

Virtual reality is changing how we shop, data analytics is changing our business decision making and cloud computing has helped businesses become more agile for some time.

But as we approach Mobile World Congress 2019, an additional observation might be the volume of technology trends that, when taken together, have an even broader impact than the change they bring individually.

Consider 5G—fifth-generation wireless connectivity—getting closer to reality with an industry standard (5G NR) in waiting. Advances in Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing will be fueled by 5G infrastructure, but they will bring their own advances, too especially with intelligent data processing and AI at the edge. Device-to-device communications will also become more common, but a lack of universal standards could leave us with stunted adoption, as we see with 5G.

These technology trends do not exist in a vacuum. Macro considerations are coming to the forefront, especially surrounding a growing digital divide and privacy. Expect to see more aggressive enforcement of privacy regulations (various companies have already experienced the impact and have been fined for Global Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] violations). Finally, geopolitics will shape technology transfers as countries become aware of risks to critical communications infrastructure. Here is more on the 10 enterprise mobility trends to watch in 2019.

1. 5G standards—for real this time. Carriers can put stakes in the ground claiming they are the future of 5G .But all this provider sparring obfuscates the basic issue: We need widespread adoption of a single standard such as 5G NR. The industry jousting will ultimately give way to agreement on standards that mobile device manufacturers can use to produce with confidence that there will be a market for their devices.

Consider, too, the sixth-generation wireless LAN standard, 802.11ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6. This new standard will address wireless performance, capacity and battery life issues. Users often expect Wi-Fi connectivity even in congested public areas where capacity is an issue. The standard will improve the wireless experience in any area where numerous users want to access the wireless network, such as busy public settings like airports, hospitals and universities. WI-Fi 6/802.11ax also addresses the fact that the growing number of IoT devices need wireless connectivity to the  network. Lastly, Wi-Fi 6/802.11ax will provide significant energy savings for battery-operated devices, which can boost user experience and providing significant energy savings for battery-operated devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops..

2. Increasing digital divide. The disparity of access to communications technology within the U.S. and in less industrialized nations will grow starker with the rollout of 5G technology. 5G infrastructure and connectivity will continue to be a challenge for rural areas. But even within urban areas, initial deployment will likely prioritize demand in commercial and higher-income areas creating a profound but likely temporary gap in access. Meanwhile, less industrialized nations will scramble to improve communications infrastructure as global commerce opportunities exploit the untapped potential of 5G data mobility.

3. More intelligent edge computing. Collecting massive amounts of data and sending it all to the cloud for analysis is not practical (data latency becomes too great during this round trip), even if 5G infrastructure were mature and widespread.

As a result, edge computing will become a key architecture to accommodate data and processing at the edge. Devices may exhibit greater native intelligence and enable users to get that intelligence in real time. A consortium of various vendors is developing reference implementations for edge computing. Companies are already bringing deep learning to mobile and embedded devices. Expect to see new architecture and design patterns emerge as developers push the limits of these platforms.

4.  Increasingly connected devices. Self-driving cars, industrial sensors, and intelligent refrigerators all share a common characteristic: They are not islands but operate in an environment of networked things, interdependent processes, and linked information. Self-driving cars operate in environments with other self-driving vehicles, human driven devices, as well as pedestrians and cyclists. As with more intelligent edge computing, expect to see more localized, collaborative computing, such as sharing data for safety and road condition details. Use of technologies like cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) will become more common. Industrial sensors will share data with upstream and downstream sensors and process controllers to adapt to changes in the manufacturing flow. In an enterprise environment, these IoT devices will put a strain on the wireless network, which is why Wi-Fi 6 is highly anticipated. Even in the home, appliances will communicate increasingly useful information, not just simple status data, to homeowner’s mobile devices.

5.   Intentional data loss. IoT sensors and more intelligent edge devices will face a problem as old as IT: how to store all the data that they generate. The short answer is, they won’t. Not every piece of data is worth saving. We routinely use lossy compression algorithms when we don’t need high-fidelity reproduction of the source data, such as with images. Expect to see application-specific filters that identify the most interesting data while discarding the rest. Consider how the CERN Large Hadron Collider uses specialized hardware to pre-select events of interest at a rate of 1 per 10,000 events. Again, edge architectures will also be critical to reduce load on cloud storage and networks. Expect more sampling and data aggregation at the edge.

6.   Mobile leverages cloud. Major cloud vendors have acquired additional tools and platforms to support mobile development. This will blur the distinction between mobile and cloud. The development platform Firebase can push real time database updates any action from users. 5G’s network slicing will enable more intelligence at the edge, which in turn will fuel device-to-device communication. Networks of potentially millions of devices per square mile will be able to communicate with lower latency than ever.

These technology accelerations will have enormous impact on the economy and may happen far sooner than driverless cars. For example, new advances will soon allow for continuous monitoring of road conditions and near-perfect climate control for goods in transport. And we will see health technology, like wearable devices and remote sensors, expand their capacities to transmit data about vital signs and medication adherence in the near future.

7.  Advances in security. Enterprises that struggle to protect their data on-premises and in the cloud will face new threats as edge architectures and native mobile intelligence become more prevalent. While protecting confidentiality of data is a primary concern for business application data, we will see an increasing awareness of the need to protect availability of edge and mobile devices. Expect improvements in tools and methods for protecting distributed computing platforms from outside attacks that aim to disrupt services.

8.  More privacy regulation. Expect increased legislative attention to privacy policy, in the U.S. and abroad. The nearly weekly news about company data breaches has accelerated lawmakers’ and advocates’ interest in developing federal mobile security and privacy policy. The push will focus on increasing data usage transparency and providing tools for customer digital self-defense.

Still, broad adoption won’t happen until the market determines how to monetize user information—without encroaching on data privacy or being intrusive, which only alienates consumers. One interesting question is how U.S. policy will compare with European implementation of GDPR, which passed last year, as its passage—and its copycat adoption by other nations—set new global standards for privacy that the U.S. has yet to endorse.

9. Government regulation of technology transfers. Not since the Cold War have there been so many geopolitical considerations in technology as there are today. As 5G and Wi-Fi 6 technologies facilitates the growth of the IoT in unprecedented ways, security of the cyberdomain is critical to national defense. U.S. concerns over companies perceived to be vulnerable to state control have resulted in tighter U.S. monitoring and involvement in the technology market. The tension that emerged over trade will likely continue in 2019.

10.  End of online-brick and mortar distinction. In 2019, we will see revolutionary advances in retail, as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 prompts retailers to meld the best of digital and brick-and-mortar shopping. As these technologies improve advance factory automation and retailers’ ability to manipulate the supply chain with surgical precision, we will see the focus move to enhanced customer experiences that prioritize ease of use and more comprehensive customer experiences. Expect to see immersive artificial reality-enabled  customer showroom experiences powered by mobile technology, for example, and targeted advertising and customers approach retail locations. The popularity of five-minute-or-less shopping trips may also gain popularity; retailers will have the capacity to quickly deliver online orders to self-serve areas in hyper-local retail establishments, allowing customers to avoid delivery hassles by collecting purchases on demand.

While communications technologies are driving advances in transportation, retail, and other industries, they are profoundly influencing social and political systems. That is perhaps the most important trend to watch.

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Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan is a software architect specializing in streaming analytics, machine learning and cloud computing. Sullivan is the author of NoSQL for Mere Mortals and several LinkedIn Learning courses on databases, data science and machine learning.