Looking Ahead

Business people looking at a laptop

Comms Business is getting into the spirit of the new year with some predictions for the year ahead. Everyone likes to take a shot at predicting future trends and our industry is no different. It is not just about bragging rights but also positioning your business correctly to take advantage of the landscape ahead.

Tony Smith, head of sales for the indirect channel, Unify

 Enterprises are embracing new ways to work – As business technology continues to be driven by consumers, flexible working is becoming increasingly important. Organisations are ensuring they have strong BYOD policies in place and are nurturing the talent in their organisations. No longer do employees have to work the traditional 9-5, the ability and desire for anybody to work anywhere, anytime and on any device is continuing to push the market forward.

2014 will be no exception to this rule. Technology will continue advancing faster than ever and Unified Communications underpins this desire for freedom, empowering a worker to be best equipped and prepared wherever they are. I believe that in 2014, many organisations will see a strong UC platform as the springboard to increased growth in the year ahead.

Increased investment in SMBs – During the economic downturn a lot of big investments were put on hold due to concerns about the state of the market, this was particularly noticeable in the SMB space. In 2014 a lot of companies will have regained their confidence in the market and will start making these investments once again. Many companies are now realising how embracing new technologies and working practices offer great potential for growth. This has already started happening to an extent – 2013 started of slowly but towards the second half of the year Unify saw sales improve dramatically. July was a record month for the company and these figures were then beaten again in September.  There was also a big focus on investing in small businesses in this year’s Autumn Statement giving entrepreneurs renewed hope for the future.

As more and more of these investments are given the green light, 2014 will become the year for widespread proliferation of new technology including Unified Communications (UC) in the UK SMB community. This is great news for Unify’s partners working in this space too.

Increased vendor consolidation – The UC industry has reached a tipping point. The large amount of vendors in a highly competitive industry has meant that things had to change. Innovation or consolidation are to be the main routes to continued growth. At Unify we chose to try something new and innovate. Our new brand has been a success in this respect; rejuvenating the UC market and highlighting the importance of collaboration and communication.

Other companies such as Mitel and Aastra have chosen the path of consolidation. A number of the other big players have found they must join forces to offer all-encompassing solutions. Key IT decision-makers in businesses around the UK and the world are realising the benefits of having a sole supplier for their communication needs.

In 2014 we’ll see a number of high level acquisitions as larger providers try to become ‘one-stop shop’ suppliers. This is a compelling offering for both customers as well as struggling smaller suppliers who specialise in a certain area of UC but can’t offer a comprehensive package. As companies consolidate competition will remain fierce but the service offerings available will become more diverse and customisable for every kind of business model.

 

Steve Hratko, Director of Service Provider/ Carrier Marketing, Ruckus Wireless

Carriers Embrace the Wi-Fi Opportunity

Throughout 2013 we have seen further adoption of Wi-Fi by mobile operators, as carriers look to ease congestion on their networks and provide customers with the best possible experience. In fact, according to a Wireless Broadband Alliance survey of its global carrier and vendor members, 22 per cent of new data capacity will come from carrier owned and managed Wi-Fi networks in the coming year. We’ve already seen the likes of O2 invest heavily in hotspots, and many are starting to sign roaming agreements with retailers, MSOs and wireless ISPs. This trend is only set to continue. Steve Hratko, Director of Service Provider (SP)/Carrier Marketing, Ruckus Wireless, provides his view on what 2014 will bring.

Carriers Have the ‘Hots’ for Partners

A hot topic in 2014 will be HotSpot 2.0, which looks to radically simplify the user process of securely connecting to a Wi-Fi network and roaming between different Wi-Fi networks. In 2014, we expect large scale Hotspot 2.0 roaming consortiums to become a reality.  They will allow automatic and secure connectivity to Wi-Fi networks with tens of thousands of roaming partners and millions of access points. Most of these partners will consist of public venues that have extensive indoor Wi-Fi deployments.

In addition, cable Multiple System Operators (MSOs) worldwide will continue to aggressively embrace Wi-Fi technology as a way to fend off over-builders, add to their service package, and grab the best locations.  This will also set the stage for roaming relationships with mobile operators in the future, especially with the continued rise of HotSpot 2.0.

On Location

Indoor location technologies have received a lot of attention in the mobile world in 2013. By knowing where clients are, companies are able to help them get wherever they need to go, make the network experience better for them, use data from their location to optimise their experience, provide them with offers, and tell them something along the way. Carriers have a strong interest in offering location services and analytics – not only to better tune their network but to also help monetise them. Smarter Wi-Fi services, which add granular location details of users leveraging basic network information, allow carriers and their customer to deliver much a higher quality experience to end users.

Wi-Fi Gets Flexible

In 2014, we will see Seamless Wi-Fi handoff become a reality with technologies like 802.11r and 802.11k making their way into mobile devices and Wi-Fi Access Points (APs).  No longer will smartphones try to cling to the AP that they associated with, even as the user moves into another coverage area.  This will allow Wi-Fi to emulate the seamless handoff experience that we all enjoy with cellular services.

However, the policy solutions that will help smartphones to select between Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity still need work. This is a complex issue and one that will not be resolved for several more years.

Better Wi-Fi Coming in Waves

802.11ac is all the rage, and rightfully so. It represents another fundamental change in the evolution of the 802.11 protocol that promises to boost speeds into the gigabit world. In 2014, 802.11ac will continue to make inroads, with the really compelling step forward coming with multi-user MIMO in Wave 2.  This will allow access points to talk with as many as 4 single stream smartphones at the same time. However, it will be imperative to have access points that can direct Wi-Fi signals to each client to better separate signals. This enables higher sustained data rates, and increased client capacities can be achieved because users can get on and off the Wi-Fi network faster and with less packet loss and retransmissions.

 

Chris Kozup, Senior Director at Aruba Networks.

Mobile Employee Power Shift 

In 2014, IT departments will give end users more control over their mobile devices and access than ever before, so that IT can focus on managing the network and improving the user experience.  Tasks previously handled by IT such as onboarding and provisioning new mobile devices and giving network access to guests, can now be turned over to end users, easily and securely, wherever they are.

Unified Comms on the Move

Modern Wi-Fi networks have helped usher in mobile unified comms (UC), by gaining visibility into the traffic and by communicating directly with UC systems. This allows for reliable, high fidelity voice and video over crowded enterprise Wi-Fi networks and, for the first time, gives IT administrators an end-to-end view of a UC call for management, reporting and troubleshooting.  With the Wi-Fi network allowing IT to gain better visibility and control, mobile UC will become mainstream in 2014.

New Mobile Infrastructure will allow for a Better App Experience

In 2014, software defined networks (SDN) will begin to play a greater role in mobile infrastructure, enabling a better app experience for end users. With SDN, mobile networks become more dynamic, adapting in real-time to changing conditions and application requirements. Ultimately, this means an enhanced and more personalised experience for end users. SDN enables mobile networks to talk to applications and other networks in order to adjust things like data path and priority on-the-fly, optimising the mobile experience in real-time.

High Speed, High Productivity

2014 promises to be the year of Gigabit Wireless with technologies like 802.11ac becoming mainstream. With enterprise access points promising wireless speeds in excess of 1.2 Gbps and new devices from Apple, Samsung, HTC and others supporting the new standard, businesses can fully embrace the power of mobility for all applications – simply meaning that workers can get their work done remotely more easily. Analysts predict that in 2014 the Wi-Fi device chipset market will be dominated by the new 802.11ac standard, signaling the need for businesses to ensure their infrastructure is ready.

“It’s not just about offering BYOD anymore. We’ve moved on from that; employees expect much more and if businesses get it right, they can reap the rewards in productivity”, Kozup concluded.

 

Ciena’s EMEA chief technology officer, David Tomalin, explains what he believes will be the key trends transforming the networking space over the course of 2014. 

The cloud becomes truly ubiquitous 

2014 is the year on-demand network services will align with on-demand cloud compute and storage services, to deliver a truly ubiquitous service experience for the end user.   To date, the predominant cloud services have been SaaS, PaaS and IaaS – Software-, Platform- and Infrastructure-as-a-Service , that enable enterprise IT and consumer applications and content to be virtualised and delivered from cloud provider data centres.

The network will continue to be the key ingredient that ties everything together, providing guaranteed performance to the spectrum of XaaS cloud services and a backplane across the data centres for dynamic delivery of applications.

For consumers, the cloud has finally become mainstream. The ongoing popularity of tools such as Apple’s iCloud and the close integration of cloud based services into operating systems such as Microsoft Windows 8, along with increased smartphone and tablets adoption, will confirm the cloud as an essential aspect of everyday life in 2014.

The ‘Telco Cloud’ will start to take shape

2014 will also see the ‘Telco Cloud’ emerge, enabling the virtualisation of telecom services delivery and processing functions, alongside existing XaaS (anything-as-a-Service).

Operators deploy a variety of network appliances (load balancers, deep packet inspection devices, broadband access gateways and the like) each responsible for the delivery of various network functions such as wireless, broadband Internet, enterprise VPN and so on. Some of these are business-oriented while others are consumer-oriented. As a result, some are heavily utilised during the day but not at night, and vice versa.  At the moment network service providers must deploy sufficient capacity for each appliance type, for each service silo and in each metro area to handle the local peak demand, meaning high operational expenses and extremely inefficient use of capital assets.

The rise of network functions virtualisation (NFV) in 2014 will allow the control and processing functions for these network appliances to be virtualised, allowing for each function to be grown and shrunk as necessary. Essentially giving network operators same agility, efficiency, and operational gains that cloud computing brought to enterprise IT.

SDN takes a big step forward – hand-in-hand with NFV

2014 will be the year software defined networking (SDN) does ‘less talking and more walking’ – particularly to enhance the efficiency and new service creation promise of network functions virtualisation (NFV). Integral to a number of next generation network incubation projects in 2013, the next 12 months see the next step from incubation to operation, structured within two to three year rollouts program. In 2014, we also expect the ONF continue to make progress on OpenFlow as the Optical Transport support in OpenFlow becomes available.

Driven by increasing pressure to improve financial metrics and deliver better rates of return, SDN and NFV will be increasingly pivotal in business proposals, both RFIs and RFPs. The SDN ecosystem will start to take shape, allowing organisations to simplify their network and improve capital efficiency and OPEX over the long term.  More than ever, embracing open SDN and planning for its effective deployment will be integral to attaining success.

Building networks with big data in mind becomes standard practice

Big data use will soon become widespread, turning into “The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity”[i]. 2014 will become the year it becomes common practice for organisations to push for the deployment of next generation virtual private network resources that can carry such large swathes of information.

The use of mature technologies like optical and packet transmission will play a vital part in establishing the foundations of such networks over the next 12 months.  The flexibility to share scale between big data users will also be supported by developments in operational virtualisation, especially with the increasing adoption of common application programming interfaces (API’s) as part of a software defined network (SDN) framework.

 

Smartphone trends in 2014 – Daniel Gleeson Mobile Analyst, IHS

One of the biggest trends we will see in 2014 is Smartphone Ubiquity, or smartphones in every country at every price point. Prices are being driven down by Chinese manufactures and now we are seeing quality coming into the lower–end handsets. Motorola’s Moto-G is a very cheap Android handset that doesn’t compromise so much on the hardware quality. With most of the high-end of the market saturated, the low-end of the market is the only space for growth for the multitude of struggling manufacturers. IHS is expecting much more focus on producing quality smartphones at low prices in 2014.

One of the biggest trends we will see in 2014 is Smartphone Ubiquity, or smartphones in every country at every price point. Prices are being driven down by Chinese manufactures and now we are seeing quality coming into the lower–end handsets. Motorola’s Moto-G is a very cheap Android handset that doesn’t compromise so much on the hardware quality. With most of the high-end of the market saturated, the low-end of the market is the only space for growth for the multitude of struggling manufacturers. IHS is expecting much more focus on producing quality smartphones at low prices in 2014.

The traditional Achilles’ heel of low priced smartphones has been their operating systems. As Android evolved, more features were added, which increased the minimum requirements on the phones. The result was that virtually all low-end smartphones use out-of-date versions of Google’s operating system and may struggle to run modern apps and games. Google’s latest data show that over a quarter of Android smartphones are still running versions of Android that are nearly three years old.

This is set to change. Google’s new version of Android, KitKat, focuses very much on performance for the lower-end handsets. It can work on handsets with only 512MB of memory, half of what is found on the already cut-price Moto G. Competing with Google at the low-end is Mozilla’s Firefox OS which simplifies development by making everything web-based, and can run on similarly modest hardware.

In 2014, this better quality will drive sales as the prices come down even more. We are likely to see more sales of smart phones in the pre-pay market in Europe and in emerging markets throughout 2014. IHS predicts smartphone shipments to emerging markets will reach over 750 million in 2014, representing over two-thirds of all new handsets sold; truly a ubiquitous technology.

 

Wayne Gratton, SolutionsPath Business Development Director EMEA, at Avnet Technology Solutions commented:

“There’s no denying the changing technology landscape – from cloud computing to remote working, virtualisation to security concerns. Over the course of 2013, traditional IT infrastructures have changed. It seems that end-user companies have realised if they want to succeed and make the most of new opportunities, they need to transform their IT infrastructure and embrace IT differently. For success in 2014 and beyond, resellers need to continue to help organisations to invest in on-premise IT, but must keep a watchful eye on cloud-based services and other technological advances.

Although there continues to be an air of uncertainty around BYOD and remote working, security, unified communication and the cloud, it is in these areas that exciting possibilities for growth exist. To maximise on these new opportunities, companies also need to broaden their hybrid IT infrastructures and take full advantage of the potential arising from these industry drivers, such as cloud-based managed services. IT providers might need to transform their own business models to resemble that of a managed service provider (MSP), to provide end-user companies with professional services and support improved asset management. One thing is for certain, to take advantage of these opportunities going forward, resellers need to remain on top of the changing technology driving the industry forward and work with distribution partners to make sure that they don’t miss out on growth opportunities.”

 

The Rise of Big Data 

Hydrogen predicts that big data projects will become major catalysts in the creation of global tech hubs, attracting top professionals from around the world to the countries that specialise in this sector.

Dominic McNamara, Global Leader of Hydrogen’s Technology Practice, said, “Technology is being talked about much more by the wider business community, especially in the US and UK which are seeing major investment into big data companies. It is no coincidence that these two countries were also voted the top two destinations for tech professionals in Hydrogen’s Global Professionals on the Move report this year. The best global candidates are at the forefront of this rapidly evolving trend that is having a huge impact on business as a whole. The industry is now extremely powerful and professionals are travelling overseas to capitalise on their expertise in new markets.”

Vinoth Kannan, a big data engineer currently working in Germany who has been a truly global professional since he left India in 2007 is a great example of effective overseas capitalisation. He has worked in Italy and France and has now moved to Germany to advance his career in big data, “I have always been open minded about moving from country to country as it is a means of accessing the best jobs available in the global marketplace. Working in different countries is a great way of broadening one’s perspective through experiencing a wide variety of work cultures and meeting new people.”

This willingness to travel to wherever the best opportunities are is greatly beneficial to companies who can then be assured of reaching the best global talent for their roles. Tesco recently ran a project with IBM to cut its refrigeration energy costs. The team that undertook the research is international, with consultants from Germany, Argentina, America and Australia in the mix. John Walsh, Data Consumption Manager for Tesco UK and Ireland commented, “Now that an increasing number of technology professionals are prepared to travel all over the world for the right role, we can undertake projects of this scale in the absolute knowledge that we have the people with the very best skillsets drawn from a global talent pool.”

 

 

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