The tech predictions for 2021 COVID-19; A Catalyst for Technology. Here are the Predictions for 2021


COVID-19 sparks doctor’s video and virtual visits

Video and virtual visits: COVID-19 sparks growth in video or virtual doctor’s visits

Of all the activities that COVID-19 brought online, video doctor’s visits may be the one that caused the most personal anxiety and trepidation. After all, how can a doctor take your blood pressure, measure your sugar levels, examine your throat, or evaluate a skin tumour over Zoom or Skype? But as it turns out, many consumers, and doctors, have been quick to change their mind about video or virtual visits’ usefulness and appeal, and they are now prepared to do it that way for the long term compared to in-person visits.

While tele-health, which also includes phone calls, emails, and non-video software solutions, the number of visits by video and virtual options rose greatly during COVID-19.  However, more video and other types of virtual visits means more business for the companies and services providers offering the technologies to support them. The telecommunications industry, for instance, will have a large role to play in making virtual health care as widely available as possible.

Even though the technology for video and virtual visits has been around for years, several factors, COVID-19 foremost among them, are converging today to drive higher usage. As COVID-19 left people no choice, and regulatory barriers were lowered.

COVID-19 also forced people to learn how to use the software. During the pandemic, people who had never used video calling software and hardware before used it for the first time as they worked from home during lockdowns. Even before the pandemic, video calling was relatively easy to use, but many people hadn’t used them. Post-pandemic, almost everyone is now a veteran at setting it up, getting lighting levels right, muting and unmuting themselves, and so on.

COVID-19 provided the incentive for them to change that. To stay in touch with children, grandchildren, and friends, the 65+ population underwent a rapid and forced training on video hardware and software. For them to be able to use it for virtual video visits with physicians is a fringe benefit that can drive substantial growth in the video visit market.

Connectivity, reach and speed are improving

Virtual visits’ growth will depend partly on the extent to which more people become connected. Furthermore, during periods of heavy use, when they are shared by multiple users in a home, speeds can be much slower. Most virtual video visit applications require at least 0.5 Mbps upload speeds, meaning that at times when connectivity is slower than the maximum for these users, their connections would not be able to support a video doctor’s visit.

It is also worth noting that access to connectivity is lower among certain populations besides those in rural areas. “Digital exclusion” is higher for those living outside major cities and from lower-income groups, with visual and other disabilities, who are homeless or unemployed, who have lower levels of education. Because of this, these populations will likely be slower to adopt tele-medicine in general and especially video and virtual visits.

The connectivity situation, however, is slowly improving. Governments around the world, working with network operators, are trying to get more citizens connected to the internet, and at higher speeds, especially in rural areas. As tele-medicine becomes increasingly important in delivering health care (once again, especially in rural areas), we can expect those initiatives to accelerate.

COVID-19 may make the video and virtual calling the default.

Internet use though these networks are not yet in full service, and many questions about them remain, especially around affordability.

5G will further accelerate telemedicine, as it allows for faster transmission of large image and high- quality video files, better augmented reality/virtual reality and spatial computing, and more reliable connections with guaranteed quality of service. In some cases, 5G could even allow tele-medicine to move beyond diagnosis and monitoring, enabling doctors to perform actual procedures and surgeries.

Although it’s not expected that video and virtual visits will stay at pandemic levels, they will almost certainly not return to the pre-pandemic levels. One major reason that virtual visits are likely to persist is that patients like them.

Virtual visits tend to be more efficient, reducing travel to and from doctor’s and visit time. They reduce the wait time for seeing a specialist. They are also seen as safer during these unusual times. Further, having video visits offer value beyond just convenience will likely enhance adoption over time. That said, there are still some patients who do not see video visits as equal to physical ones.

Doctors and medical professionals are still learning how to optimize video and virtual technology and their own behaviour for new models of care. As just one example, health care professionals should adapt their learning and training to go from a bedside manner to a “webside” manner.

They also should look strongly at more proactive care with wearable and “nearables” (smart objects: everyday items with small, wireless computing devices attached to them) and more ubiquitous team-based solutions that also support caregivers.

Whether insurers and governments continue to reimburse for virtual video visits will matter a great deal in markets where insurers play a key role.

Historically, many insurers have not paid for virtual visits at the same rate (or at all) as in-person visits. Once again, however, COVID-19 has prompted the situation to change.

No one today expects a doctor, black bag in hand, to make house calls in this day. But thanks to video visits, it’s now possible for patients to receive medical care at home once again. While video visits may never completely replace in-person consultations, we expect that over time, for those visits where they are appropriate, they will become as ordinary and acceptable an option as going to a doctor’s office is today.


TV’s next resolution

The start of the 8K resolution television wave

If you have a 4K resolution TV screen – you’re used to seeing your favourite shows, movies, and videos with few visible individual pixels. But over the next few years, those images may be about to get even sharper. The 8K resolution – an upgrade and complement to 4K resolution – will be the next increasingly popular set for the television sizes.

In addition, sales of equipment (such as cameras, monitors, storage, and computers) related to the creation and production of 8K content should take its course.

If history repeats itself, we would expect that a large proportion of consumers would buy an 8K panel if it were close in price to a 4K set of the same size

One of the major reasons some people are sceptical about 8K resolution adoption, at first glance, is the high cost. 8K resolution television sets are likely to cost highly for premium models. The starting price of 8K TVs, at around US$1,500, is likely to be far higher than for 4K TVs, which are available for under US$300.

However, more time at home means more TV sales in general

5G is not hazardous to your health

The wireless radiation risk myth

As 5G becomes more widely explored, warnings were sounding about its supposed health hazards which has disrupted the 5G rollout in some western countries.

Two main concerns have been voiced, both related to the radiation associated with the technology. The most common perception is that 5G causes cancer. The second fear is that 5G-emitted radiation weakens the immune system, enabling COVID-19 to spread.

Both of these fears were totally overblown. In 2021, it is very unlikely that the radiation from 5G mobile networks and 5G phones will affect the health of any single individual, be it a 5G user, a user of any other generation of mobile phones, or any individual in the vicinity of a mobile network but not actually using a mobile device. There is no link between the growth in COVID-19 infections and the roll-out of 5G networks.

5G and the spread of COVID-19

It may not be possible to persuade everyone that 5G is safe. There is likely to be a niche – that will remain convinced not just that wireless technologies are harmful, but that their deployment is deliberate and that the intent is to cause harm.

Unfortunately, while such niche views have in the past lacked widespread development, social media has often provided the mechanism for conspiracy theories to flourish and proliferate. If education is to be effective in curbing popular fears, it should be compelling, consistent, and pervasive, and it should begin now.

The Next-Generation radio access network (RAN)

Open and virtualized RANs are the future of mobile networks

Mobile Network Operator’s (MNOs) are known for their ability to build and operate massive, high-performance wireless networks. They rely on highly specialized radio access and networking equipment with tightly integrated proprietary software to deliver the cellular services that connect our cell phones, tablets, computers, and other devices. But high costs, limited flexibility, and constrained vendor choice are prompting MNOs to shift away from such systems toward more open, standards-based, software-centric virtual platforms.

Many MNOs are well on the journey toward opening and virtualizing their core networks, achieving significant operational gains. They now have their sights on their distributed mobile edge networks; the radio access network (RAN). Because MNOs must replace or augment existing RAN equipment to deliver 4G/5G service, they have the opportunity to adopt open and virtualized RAN architectures – which we will refer to simply as “open RAN”—as part of these deployments.

The open RAN market is still in its early days. With many MNOs involved in testing open RAN in greenfield, rural, and emerging markets. Although deployments are starting slowly, they could easily increase in 2021. While it may take anywhere from three to five years for the technology to fully mature, open RAN adoption should accelerate rapidly thanks to the logic of its network design and its strategic alignment with carrier needs. 

Getting started with O-RAN

The traditional RAN represents one of the last bastions of closed proprietary systems. If history repeats itself, the adoption of open RAN may mimic the time it took the industry to transition from traditional to open and virtual core networks – the seven years between 2013, when the tenets underlying core network virtualization were introduced, and 2020, when more than half of the industry’s core wireless shipments migrated from purpose-built to virtual network solutions. Though open RAN is still in its infancy, the clear growing interest in the technology could be the start of a large and significant trend with the potential to revolutionize the telecom industry.

The Cloud movement

Cloudy migration forecast

Growth in cloud computing has been a megatrend over the last decade, with the market experiencing triple-digit annual growth as recently as 2015. Even though growth among the largest hyperscale public cloud providers had largely declined by the end of 2019, and projected to (slowly) decline further in 2020 and 2021 as the industry matures, growth in cloud continued to outpace that in many other sectors.

It would have not been surprising to see cloud spending go down a few points in 2020, given the spending reduction in multiple areas driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the general recession. Instead, the cloud market has been remarkably resilient.

By some metrics, growth was more or less flat in 2020; by some other ways of measuring growth, it increased faster than in 2019, even in the face of the steepest economic contraction in modern history.

The likely reason for cloud growth: COVID-19, lockdowns, and work from anywhere (WFA) have increased demand to cloud to save money, become more agile, and drive digital transformation and innovation. 

What happens in the Cloud?

Cloud providers can take several steps to support their continued growth. Firstly, with great growth comes great capital expenditures (capex). Higher-than-expected growth is good news, but to keep up with it, cloud providers will likely need to spend more on capex.

Additionally, investment isn’t needed only for capex. For cloud providers, artificial intelligence (AI) apps and dev tools are critical to attracting and maintaining business customers and require investment or acquisition

One emerging development for hyperscale cloud providers is the intelligent edge. The intelligent edge places computing power, specifically AI computing power, not in centralized data centers but closer to the end user, typically less than 50 kilometers. The intelligent edge is not a replacement for businesses and hyperscale cloud data centers, but a way to distribute tasks across the network to increase timeliness, connectivity, and security.

Gaining an Intelligent edge

Edge computing and intelligence could propel tech and telecom growth

The intelligent edge is the combination of advanced connectivity, compact processing power, and artificial intelligence (AI) located near devices that use and generate data records. It represents an evolution and convergence of trends in industrial monitoring, automated manufacturing, utility management, and telecommunications, amplified by cloud computing, data analytics, and AI.

Who needs the intelligent edge?

The intelligent edge can benefit any business that manages infrastructure, networks, clouds, data centers, and connected endpoints such as sensors, actuators, and devices. It can support consumer use cases that require very low latency, such as cloud gaming and augmented and virtual reality. It can enable enterprise uses that require aggregating, securing, and analyzing a great deal of data across operations and customers. And it can improve industrial processes for managing quality, materials, and energy use, such as monitoring factory floors, assembly lines, and logistics.

Thanks to COVID-19 driving businesses toward cloud, the cloud market will likely emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever. Cloud providers and others in the ecosystem have the opportunity to capitalize on increased usage to grow and flourish, while cloud users can seek to explore new ways for cloud to create value. Already, cloud has become much more than an alternative computing approach; in the near future, it is poised to become standard operating procedure for all types of businesses.

The year 2021 may thus see the intelligent edge colonized primarily by already-dominant tech sector and telecommunication leaders, further reinforcing their competitive advantage in the coming wave of transformation. The efforts of these early adopters over the next year can help the intelligent edge prove its value. In the next two years, the market will likely sort out best practices, establish standards and interoperability, and potentially lift early leaders while making it easier for smaller businesses to adopt intelligent edge capabilities.

From Virtual devices to reality

Digital reality headsets, software and services in business and education

From virtual to reality: Digital reality headsets in business and education

In 2021, led by purchases from corporations and educational institutions, sales for business and educational use of wearable headsets, software, and services for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) to simulate those environments for workers to practice in – collectively known as XR or digital reality – will grow in the coming year.

Market growth for these types of headsets has already accelerated in some markets due to the risk of COVID-19 infection driving their use in teaching employees and students virtually rather than in-person. With the pandemic accelerating the opportunity to demonstrate their value, digital reality headsets, software, and services may continue to gain ground after the pandemic ends due to a variety of other benefits, such as lower cost, greater safety, and better learning retention. 

What about education?

As mentioned, the market for educational XR is poised to be among the fastest-growing XR segments over the next few years as schools and colleges have been shut down due to the pandemic, XR and XR headsets will prove to be valuable tools.

>>>the writer is the managing director, Stalworth Consulting Group, a professional management and strategy consulting firm offering transformation strategy, technology advisory, inclusive and learning services. T: +256 414 220879, E: [email protected],

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