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We asked the experts, and pulled together our picks from their top predictions for 2017. Here's the low-down on what's ahead in terms of progress on the IoT, cloudification and the move toward NFV/SDN, initial applications of 5G, the age of unlicensed spectrum, and the end of pure-play wireless. Don't miss it!
 

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We know crossing the threshold into a new year (and a new administration!) can be a little nerve wracking. So, we decided to break out the crystal ball and share a preview that will help you prepare for what’s might be coming.

Back in December, we sent out a call for submissions to companies on all sides of the telecom industry to ask what they thought the biggest trends in the coming year would be. Their answers spanned a massive range of topics, but in reviewing them we honed in on a few key commonalities and tried to include unique details from every angle possible.

So instead of taking our word for it, you’re hearing from the best and brightest minds in telecom.

Welcome to Wireless Week’s Top5 Predictions for 2017.

5. IoT Goes Mainstream

Ok, we got SO. MANY. IoT predictions – it’s hard to know where to start, but here it goes.

Oracle predicted 2017 will be the year the IoT goes mainstream and Smart City implementations finally start to yield a real impact on the citizen experience. The company believes advancements in mobile, sensor, and IoT technology will change the way we interact with the world around us, streamlining everything from parking to your trip to the DMV. Behind the scenes, Oracle said network management, billing, predictive analytics, machine learning, border control, and advanced security technology will all need to work in harmony to make this a reality. ExteNet CTO Tormod Larsen seconded this notion, noting the first implementations will come as municipalities finally dig in and build the network infrastructure needed to support intelligent elements.

Ericsson Head of Research Michael Bjorn noted the way consumers think about the connection between the IoT and smartphones is also likely to change in 2017. Rather than just being expected to function as a remote control, Bjorn said Ericsson’s data indicated users will soon expect smartphones and connected devices to learn what we do and perform activities for us automatically.

But what will the IoT run on?

Senet’s VP of Business Development Will Yapp said 2017 will be the year of low-power wide area network deployments that will fill the gap left between high-cost, high-function cellular and low-cost, localized Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Yapp specifically pointed to LPWANs based on the LoRa standard as the option of choice, but Nokia North America CTO Mike Murphy had a different opinion, suggesting the network-wide launch of cellular IoT solutions like Cat-M and NB-IoT may constrain the growth of other technologies like Lora and Sigfox.

Taoglas pointed out the growing demands of the IoT will drive the need for more antennas. Specifically, the company predicted LTE cellular systems will soon require two antennas instead of one, and GNSS antennas will need to have wider bandwidth to receive Beidou, Glonass, and other upcoming satellites.

4. Head in the Clouds

Our respondents also had a lot to say about the Cloud, software defined networking and network function virtualization, particular as they relate to one another.

Netcracker Technology believes silos will disappear as wireless operators embrace fully horizontal clouds. That means new operational models and more flexible and on-demand service creation and delivery, but also challenges to monitor, manage, and assure network and service performance under a whole new model. The company noted as-a-service models are expected to become more prominent to facilitate faster, more efficient deployments and greater scale with reduced upfront costs.

GigaSpaces CTO Nati Shalom forecasted another major game changer in 2017 will be the addition of capabilities like healing, scaling, and monitoring to cloud native virtualized network functions, paving the road to self-management. You can expect cloud native VNFs will become available to be stitched together like micro services - some virtual, others physical on a variety of infrastructure – he said.

Simple virtualization will eventually give way to cloudification, Exact Ventures predicted. Why? According to the company, the real power of virtualization is when it is combined with cloud technologies to enable very efficient network utilization and elasticity through stateless, microservices and deep analysis of network and customer data though AI and machine learning techniques.

3. So Long Legacy Networks, Hello Initial Applications of 5G

You had to know 5G would be on this list, and lo and behold, here it is.

Nokia’s Mike Murphy again said 2017 will be the year the –ish hits the fan and 5G finally becomes a reality. This will happen with the deployment of trial systems – cough Verizon cough – and more concrete forecasts on the cost of end-to-end solutions as the technology takes shape toward the end of the year. Murphy also noted legacy technologies like PSTN, bare metal cable solutions, CDMA, WiMax, and GSM are due to meet their maker in 2017, and virtualization will further the transition to 5G.

But ExteNet’s Tormod Larsen thinks things will go even further, with 5G deployments quickly moving beyond fixed wireless applications. According to Larsen, 5G deployments will likely focus on a micro network approach as opposed to the traditional nationwide approach used for 3G and 4G. The premise, he said, is around the concept of “networks-within-networks,” where several of these micro networks will co-exist with each other to optimize the user experience.

As part of the race to 5G, Viavi Solutions predicts gigabit deployments will take off. Based on current trends, the company predicted gigabit deployments will see 25-35 percent growth from both wireless and wireline providers combined. While 85 percent of currently known gigabit deployments are based on fiber, Viavi said the proportion of wireless services will ramp up quickly in the coming years as more LTE-A networks come online and experimental 5G networks are rolled out.

And a side note here: Federated Wireless believes MNOs will fully embrace shared infrastructure in 2017. The company said coverage and capacity challenge for serving large venues and congested areas will continue to grow, driving a need for more economical small cell solutions. To meet this need, MNOs will gravitate toward a shared infrastructure model -- neutral host -- in 2017. This will enable cost-efficient access to the increased network capacity needed to solve these challenges for all operators, according to Federated Wireless.

2. Age of Unlicensed Spectrum

We heard a lot about spectrum in 2016 – particularly after the FCC took action to open up nearly 11 GHz of high-frequency spectrum for 5G. But Federated Wireless also predicted the 3.5 GHz band will be the first global 5G band. The company noted Europe and other regions have begun to explore use of the 3.5 GHz band for 5G, and the U.S. will start 3.5 GHz band deployments in 2017. Federated Wireless said the mid-band spectrum, which has been approved for a shared spectrum model, is uniquely suited to meet all the hot technology trends that will be part of 5G.

ExteNet’s Tormod Larsen also believes CBRS and unlicensed spectrum will take off in 2017. Why? He said CBRS and unlicensed spectrum opens many doors for those with limited, unusable, or unavailable spectrum. According to Larsen, the business model works, the ecosystem is in place and ExteNet envisions that the efforts of the MulteFire and CBRS alliances will come to fruition in 2017, starting with specific indoor facilities.

1. Not Just a Wireless Company

Home stretch here, folks.

Syntonic predicted 2017 will usher in a new era of alliances between content companies and mobile carriers. In particular, Syntonic believes the industry will witness the accelerated alliance between content companies and mobile carriers including a merger between Verizon and Comcast, approval for AT&T’s tie up with Time Warner, and other carrier-content company mergers and alliances in Europe.

According to the company, consumers have made their content needs abundantly clear and the onus is now on mobile carriers to accommodate this new consumer expectation. In 2017, Syntonic expects more unions will occur as Verizon formally merges with Comcast, extending the NBC Universal assets onto mobile. The mergers will continue across the Atlantic with major European carriers like Vodafone, O2, and Orange acquiring popular content companies in their respective markets. This will lead to the launch of more OTT content services to bring programming to mobile consumers, according to Syntonic.

Similarly, Netcracker believes wireless-only operators will vanish, as media makes multiplay mandatory. The company said things have been moving in this direction for a while, with triple-play offerings becoming more ubiquitous and quad-play bundles emerging not just as competitive differentiators, but necessities for survival. Media is a critical pillar of multiplay, Netcracker said, and is a major element in AT&T’s planned merger with Time Warner. As media giants like Facebook, Comcast and Google target wireless offerings, Netcracker thinks consolidation will erase the wireless-only designation.

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