2018 predictions from Akamai MD

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Following a year of streaming landmarks, such as NASA’s livestream of the solar eclipse, and Brexit and GDPR concerns, Mark Weeks, MD EMEA of Akamai has pulled together his biggest predictions for the year ahead, including:

“In technology, everyone always wants to be one step ahead so, as soon as the holiday decorations go up in the shops, we’re already thinking about next year.  But what’s 2018 got in store for us?  I’ll give you a clue: it’s not going to be a quiet year.  Technological leaps ahead, political change, major sporting events and an evolution in the way that we keep ourselves entertained mean that 2018 is going to be a big year for the Internet.  Here are my big eight topics that I think are going to impact the web in the year ahead…

1. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality will have more real-world deployments by the end of the year, making good connectivity key for companies wanting to protect the user experience.

Retail outlets are already experimenting with embedding VR experiences into their sales strategies. Want to see what that new sofa would look like in your living room? Want to feel what it’s like to drive a new car without schlepping to a showroom? These retail experiences are starting to appear across the region.  But great VR can be ruined by poor connectivity so optimising data transfer is becoming absolutely key to turning VR into sales.

In 2016, Dr Shafi Ahmed conducted the first surgical operation to be live streamed in VR and, today, the technology is being used more and more to train new surgeons. Many people now predict a coming together of VR and robot-assisted surgery to allow remote medical specialists to treat patients from afar.  Imagine then, the guaranteed connectivity that might be required!  For now, the focus is more likely to be in less-critical applications but the learning in 2018 will make the future possible.

2. The Internet of things is creating a giant sleeping army of dormant bots that could be mobilised with devastating effect in 2018

Default passcodes on internet-enabled technology mean that everything from a smart doorbell to a colour-changing wifi lightbulb can be harnessed by malicious actors.  As more and more IoT devices are deployed, the dangers spiral and businesses need to be prepared for DDoS on a scale that they may not have seen before.  As IoT devices become more prevalent in the coming year, they are also becoming targets for hackers to co-opt as backdoors into the corporate network. Something as innocuous as wifi thermostat connecting over the corporate network may be being used to secretly syphon information out of a business.

And those aren’t the only devices being pressed into use by those who would do harm to businesses. Code hidden in apps is finding its way onto increasing numbers of smartphones, laying the foundation for mobile bot attacks in 2018.  Businesses will need to turn to sophisticated solutions that can learn and defend against the actions of these types of attack.

3. Carriers will have to resolve the challenge of how to serve TV-like experiences to mobile customers

When was the last time that you heard a smartphone manufacturer boast about voice capabilities? Now compare that to the number of times they celebrate their video picture quality.  Today, it’s all about video.  But, as anyone who’s already invested in a 4K TV will tell you, quality is all about the connectivity.

Mobile operators are realising, however, that customers no longer forgive poor-quality as a trade off for mobility so there is increasing pressure to deliver TV-like experiences on smartphones and tablets.  With Russian football taking place in cities four to five hours ahead of mainland Europe, it’s reasonable to expect heavy streaming at desks and on the commute home.  A hot summer could also drive up streaming as people expect the games to follow them outside.  5G will doubtless have a huge part to play in moving things forward but, with full-scale rollouts not expected until 2020, operators will need to look for other ways to improve quality in the meantime.

4. The ‘connected’ part of connected cars will evolve in 2018, bring autonomous vehicles closer to launch.

It’s one thing for your satnav to drop the signal for a minute or two – it’s entirely different for a self-driving car to drop from the network.  Progress in 2018 with solutions for connectivity will start answering these needs, beginning with Over The Air (OTA) software updates. Governments in Europe are recognising these developments and legislation, like the Automated and Electronic Vehicles bill in the UK, will begin to enshrine rules in 2018 that will define the status of these technologies.

5. The football in Russia will drive the global communications industry forward on key issues in OTT streaming

If you’ve ever tried to access video data whilst you’re travelling for work or on holiday, you’ll know that it’s not always easy to stream across borders.  And if you’ve ever tried to work out who has the legitimate rights for you to access international sporting events then you’ll know how easy it is to pay over the odds for terrible picture quality – and find yourself breaking the law to boot.

We expect the football in Russia to, by necessity, bring these issues to a head.  Organisations will have to resolve challenges around international connectivity and data sovereignty in order to drive ROI from their investments in the tournament.  Similarly, with rights costs at a premium, broadcasters are already working hard to shape the way that streaming is protected globally.  Expect to see innovations here that you might not have considered; such as technology that identifies pirate streams of rights-protected material and forcibly inserts ads on behalf of the owner.

6. The launch of the HomePod next year will add to the Echo/GoogleHome phenomenon, driving up audio streaming across EMEA

According to Gartner, 75 per cent of homes will have a smartspeaker by 2020.  They’re already having a big impact on how we listen to music – 90 per cent of owners use smartspeakers to listen to music and 39 per cent of them bought their new devices to replace a stereo.  The upshot?  Music and radio that was once broadcast over the FM airwaves is increasingly being transferred to streaming traffic.  UK listeners alone have gone from streaming 3.7 billion tracks in 2012 to 44.9 billion in 2016.

As entertainment streaming continues to grow, content owners and service providers will need to think carefully about delivery platforms and distribution methods to ensure that viewers and listeners have great experiences that their infrastructures can support.

7. GDPR could be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to localisation of data management

The 18th of May deadline for GDPR compliance means that businesses are having to act fast to meet its requirements but it’s unlikely that it will be the only driver of discussions around where and how data is processed and stored.  Privacy Shield has been challenged legally by privacy groups and, if the case is admissible, there could be further repercussions for businesses handling data.

Pan-European trends for nationalism and deunification are muddying the water further, with uncertainties about the reach of EU regulation into places like the UK or even Catalonia changing the playing field for data access.

Which brings us to…

8. Brexit, and fear of the unknown will drive companies to reconsider where the best place is for their data to be stored

Do you keep data in the country where it’s collected?  Or do you keep it centrally where it’s processed?  Or do you put all your data in the cloud?  It’s a challenging question for international businesses and one that’s become a hot topic as they think about how to cope with the fallout of Brexit.  If the UK leaves data protection and data transit regulation behind when it leaves the EU, what does that mean for companies doing business there?  And, until we know what’s going to happen, what’s the best option?  It’s a decision that’s made even more pressing for global companies that have often put their EMEA headquarters in the UK for language and transportation reasons.  Do you pull your HQ out of the UK?  And, if so, where do you put your EMEA servers?

Cloud options, and the ability to access apps remotely look increasingly attractive at this point – but with those options come the challenges of security and reliable rapid access.  2018 will be a year when businesses put real thought into whether data is stored locally – or simply accessed locally.

2018 will mark thirty years since Stockholm first connected to NSFNET, joining Europe to a fledgling internet infrastructure in the USA.  The internet today would be virtually unregonisable to those early pioneers but, every year, there are more developments and every year is the most exciting year so far.  One thing’s for certain, 2018 won’t be boring!”


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