5G remains a strategic imperative for enterprises and governments in 2021, says Alexander. While the pandemic slowed deployments in 2020, in 2021 we can expect 5G to be the focus of intense international interest as 5G networks will drive improvements in power, energy, and financial infrastructures. However, cell-site zoning issues and related policy will become a bigger issue for national and local governments.
5G will also move beyond the smartphone into industrial use cases and the enablement of virtualised healthcare delivery and procedures. Manufacturing and network rollouts will catch up with 2020 device launches, and there will be a greater diversification of 5G devices with multiple price points.
Dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) and new national spectrum policies will drive widespread 5G deployment as accessibility to user equipment grows to address current coverage issues and cost of deploying mid-band spectrum.
Greater investment in the infrastructure that enables IoT and IIoT (Factory 4.0), including distributed cloud and hyper-connectivity: Private 5G networks for industrial enterprises will be emphasised, which will facilitate among other things remote operation and management.
A growing remote workforce will fuel IIoT which will require enterprises to deploy intelligent equipment to effectively manage manufacturing and factory operations from a distance. As a result, we expect increased investment in automation and use of robotics and machine learning to manage facilities, as well as a growing acceptance in leveraging the cloud to automate production lines. New solutions for manufacturing automation, testing and analytics will be needed for all components as automotive and other facilities ramp up.
This will also see greater investment in IIoT functions for real-time, predictable control, which will require an increase in the number of machines and sensors, and a network infrastructure that can manage this growing number of devices.
Although early, expect accelerated levels of investment in quantum computing: For 2021, quantum enters a robust research phase in which the primary players will continue to experiment and invest in quantum research for the future.
Today there are many competing qubit technologies – leading ones include superconducting, trapped ion, silicon spin, as well as photonic implementations. These technologies will continue to evolve in 2021 at a rapid pace.
The materials research aspect of quantum will heat up in 2021. This will be supported by a robust investment pipeline, some of which will be funded by major governments as they learn more about the geopolitical and economic advantages of quantum computing.
An increasing number of customers will be accessing time on quantum computers in the cloud in 2021 to run new algorithms to find quantum advantage. More players will enter providing quantum computers, cloud services, or both in 2021, as well as expanding the power of the computers available to users.
Autonomous vehicle (AV) development will continue to evolve: The automotive sector suffered headwinds due to the pandemic, however production and manufacturing will roar back. As the number of sensors powering in-vehicle networks continues to escalate, in-vehicle networks will need to keep pace.
Electronic vehicle (EV) sales will increase yet they are only a small percentage (3%) of total automotive manufacturing. While traditional vehicle manufacturing stalls, interest in EV will pick up as countries face more stringent emissions standards. AV investment will be modest in the first half of 2021 but will pick up in the second half. This is more aggressive in Greater China as this region is committed to phasing out conventional gas-burning vehicles by 2035. The US will be more focused on AV and EV development in 2021 with the change of presidential administration which supports these technologies.
The distributed and remote workforce has gained new respect and acceptance, especially for technology innovation, leading to a mix of remote and on-site work environments, which have become, and will remain, the norm even as the pandemic eases. Collaboration technologies and practices have and will continue to take on new significance. Technology businesses will escalate the formation and organisation of mission-critical innovation teams that will be managed remotely.
Engineers, and other innovators, will need to return to on-site, in-person collaboration, but will be more intentional and strategic about when to do so.
Enterprise sales organisations will undergo a significant transformation as hybrid salesforces (mix of in-person and virtual) apply new methods for relationship-building and learning objectives, as well as alternative ways to provide product and solution demonstrations remotely.
STEM and tech talent
STEM will help drive the talent pipeline: With the increased focus on diversity and inclusion, we will see a hyper-competitive landscape for technology talent. There will be a focused and amplified commitment to STEM – access and implementation – across all regions. This will see new methods of delivering virtual learning opportunities that level the playing field being explored and implemented.
Enterprises and governments will tackle equity issues in the “digital divide” (access to resources such as the lack of computers, smartphones, Wi-Fi and broadband) that the pandemic exacerbated.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will take on greater business importance: No longer a specialised concern, CSR will be both a moral and business imperative consistent with an enterprise’s value creation strategy. Shareholders, in addition to employees and customers, will increasingly recognise that enterprises with tangible CSR commitments generate better long-term returns and achieve more sustainable practices.
Ethical supply chains, inventory and materials sourcing vendors, will examine a company’s CSR programs prior to establishing working relationships with organisations. The sought-after talent pool will acknowledge CSR as a fundamental responsibility for the companies they consider, and therefore an important decision driver for their career choices.
Climate change will continue to cause supply chain disruptions on a global basis such that business-continuity planning and supply-chain resilience strategies will be crucial to business success. This will highlight the need for assessments of potential risks, as well as mitigation strategies and plans that cover the end-to-end supply chain processes as well as a flexible sourcing strategy that involves multi-sourcing of alternative parts, parts redesign, and parts standardisation. This will need new approaches to address the inherent financial implications.
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