2018 Predictions: Will Technology Deliver on its Promise in 2018?

The past twelve months has been a turbulent year for many, not least with its fair share of extreme weather and economic crises. However it’s not all been doom and gloom. Google’s 2017 Year in Search revealed the most popular type of question asked to its search engine was “how” – evidencing people’s yearning to understand the world around them, and perhaps to make a difference.

In the Telco world, communication service providers (CSPs) are certainly in a unique position to make a big difference and once again improve the lives of everyone. While mobile operators are trying (and are struggling with the need) to pave the way for 5G, they also discovered they must not overlook the need to ensure they must constantly deliver added value, high quality of experience, and a secure connected environment.

Vodafone and BT both announced in November they were prioritizing network efficiency, and we’ve seen cross-industry consent that network virtualization is critical for service providers to operate in the digital economy. At the same time, mobile and IoT security threats constantly creep into the limelight and service providers are taking note.

Looking ahead to the next twelve months, the Telecoms, Technology and Media industries will be forever changed by the recent Net Neutrality ruling (even beyond the U.S.), with the jury still out on real world ramifications for the average Joe internet user. By contrast, the slow and steady rise of the IoT, consumer expectations on cyber security and the buzz around blockchain will shape our not too distant future; and there will be winners and losers.

To finish the year, we’ve chosen five key areas of advancement which we’re all watching with quiet anticipation.

1. Blockchain arenas become the new “wild west”

This year, business leaders woke up to the reality that the most groundbreaking innovation in technology is happening in the blockchain world, due to its permission-less and open-source nature. We also saw improvements in the governance of bitcoin, which sets it in good stead to maintain and grow its popularity in 2018. That being said, blockchain’s capabilities will reach far beyond cryptocurrency. In the forthcoming year, its distributed network and immutable ledger technology has the potential to fundamentally re-wire how we use online services, from banks hoping to be the stewards of digital identity, as well as major changes to processes in the insurance and healthcare data industry and significant ramifications in the cybersecurity industry.

Inevitably, crooks are taking notice. We anticipate the rise of blockchain technology used increasingly as an attack vector and as a target to disrupt or steal crypto-currency or (blockchain-based) smart contracts, as evidenced in the latest South Korean Bitcoin exchange bust

2. IoT Security moves to center stage

We’ve all heard the reports that IoT will grow to reach a staggering 75 billion devices by 2025. Indeed, it has been steadily growing; even more smart washing machines are being installed in homes, street lamps connected and thermostats controlled remotely. This does, of course, make an attractive proposition for would-be hackers, which is only set to increase next year.

As the scale increases, we’ll see even bigger DDoS attacks than the now infamous Dyn attack, which peaked at over 1 Tbps. Dyn-sized attacks will not only become standard, but we’ll likely see an attack even larger in the new year.  A recent Forrester report has suggested that (as opposed to recent years) more IoT attacks in 2018 will be motivated by financial gain than chaos, as we witness the rise of ‘ransomware of IoT’. The real-life implications of such an attack could not only be devastating, but also life threatening. Think of remotely turning off a thermostat in a hospital, or refusing to unlock a building until a ransom is paid.

As IoT device manufacturers continue to prioritize time to market over security measures, those without granular network visibility will continue to be vulnerable. In order to avoid “doomsday” attacks, service providers must ensure the resilience and safety of consumers and businesses, forcing them to assess IoT attack vectors, and their overall organizational readiness for such threats. This will also likely be the year that governments step in to regulate the industry.

3. Mobile Security makes or breaks

As guardians of the networks, service providers will play an instrumental role in fighting emerging threats as the mobile security landscape evolves. In McAfee’s December Threat Report, its data revealed new mobile malware jumped by 60% in Q3, fueled by a big increase in Android screenlocking ransomware.

Consumers and enterprise users alike will begin to expect, then demand, more proactive protection across the entire network connectivity chain. We know from our latest research that legacy mobile security apps are simply not anywhere near close to being popular with customers and have a much lower market penetration rate than network-based security services, and as such cannot be relied upon to fend the ransomware storm.

As 2018 rolls on, service providers will be expected to support rising expectations for “built-in” security with a range of technical and operational innovations. The desire for greater security will be a great opportunity for service providers to offer value add, differentiate, increase brand loyalty and reduce churn, if they embrace the need.

4.  Machine Learning and AI make waves

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Professor Stephen Hawking warned that Artificial intelligence could ruin humanity if not aligned to human interests. Fast forward to the cusp of 2018 and it’s in the midst of its third stage of rapid development, with image and speech recognition and deep learning capabilities. As the technology continues on its upward trajectory, 2018 will see large and medium sized businesses increase their use of machine learning. Deloitte predicts the number of implementations and pilot projects using the technology will double compared to this year.

For service providers with an ever-increasing amount of encrypted traffic, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will become the new standard for effective network traffic management in 2018. As the number of encrypted apps continues to rise, it becomes harder to maintain granular visibility of the network usage. In turn, this makes it harder for service providers to recognize issues such as latency in video streaming and increases difficulty of optimizing bandwidth use. The efficacy of network-based detection processes aided by machine learning will improve over time.

5. Net neutrality shakes things up

We’ve already discussed on a recent blog that Net Neutrality is as dead as a Dodo and will change how we access the internet forever. Supporters of the change argue that broadband providers will have stronger incentives to build networks, especially in unserved areas, and to upgrade networks to gigabit speeds and 5G. Opposers, whether analysts, activists and researchers – strongly disagree.

In theory, competition among ISPs should prevent limiting, discriminatory practices but without net neutrality ISPs will be free to speed up, slow down or block websites based on their own commercial considerations. In 2018, this could be problematic for startups hoping to be the next Airbnb as they won’t have the funds or influence to pay for faster content delivery. Additionally, there’s a concern traffic prioritization charges would be passed onto the consumer through monthly subscriptions such as Netflix, but it’s too early to say.

“Should the telcos be allowed to prioritize data? If you consider data a commodity, no they shouldn’t. But if you consider it a value product, yes they should” said Jamie Davies in a recent article for telecoms.com. To look on the notable upside, if every ISP is free to create flexible, tailored service bundles, the industry could experience a surge of innovation as service providers compete more creatively to win customer loyalty. Will service providers favor their own services, strike deals with content providers that effectively box out smaller competitors or create a wealth of tailored, low-cost service bundles that match each consumer’s needs? Nobody knows, but let’s hope consumers aren’t left to fend for themselves.

Does your crystal ball match ours? We’d love to hear your thoughts on what else might be in store. Let us know in the comments below

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