The 2010s represented an explosion of technology we never thought we’d see. HD video in everyone’s pocket; gigabit-plus speeds in the palm of our hands and more machines connected to the internet than ever before. The 2020s are set to build on this foundation of incredible technology, and you won’t believe what’s coming next.

It’s hard to look forward 10 years and nail down exactly what’s going to happen. In 2010, for example, we didn’t know that 4G would bring with it a wave of video applications that would surpass our wildest entertainment and connectivity dreams.

As such, we want to take a look forward at what’s coming for 2020 – which we can be more certain about – and ahead into the new decade we’ve just entered. Here’s what’s next.

Top 10 trends for 2020

  • 5G hits the mainstream: Most major smartphone manufacturers this time next year will have at least one 5G handset available for sale. Industry experts are predicting that most major smartphone brands will offer a 5G device in 2020. In fact, Telstra already has tens of thousands of customers using one of six 5G devices available in the Australian market. This is just the beginning and 2020 will see more 5G network coverage and 5G devices.
  • The rise of private mobile networks: Using mobile networks for industrial connectivity can provide robust, low latency communications and high throughputs where required, as well as an upgrade path to 5G. Telstra has already been deploying private LTE networks for mining customers, such as South32’s Cannington mine in Queensland and the Roy Hill mine in Western Australia. Overseas, other industrial segments are seeing the same advantages, and I would expect to see the same pattern reflected here in Australia. For example, both Siemens and Bosch have applied for spectrum in Germany that would allow them to run private networks in their manufacturing plants.
  • The final frontier of networking: Here’s one you might not have heard about: did you know that we’re seeing satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO) to provide internet to remote areas? It’s true! As LEO comes of age, some select remote and offshore locations will begin to use it for low-latency, moderate-speed broadband in 2020. Recently we have seen launches of LEO satellites for broadband internet by the likes of Starlink and OneWeb, and announcements from Project Kuiper to eventually do similar. SpaceNews has reported Starlink will begin offering its service to consumers in 2020, although focused in the USA. Once the capability is available, it is going to unlock many new applications, whether it’s better broadband internet communications to passenger aircraft and ships or flooding an island or area with mobile coverage. At the same time, Iridium – the original LEO communications company – has now upgraded all its constellation to support broadband Internet capability, ideal for remote and offshore locations.
  • From self-checkout to automated checkout: Amazon Go shows what is possible when you fit-out a small supermarket or convenience store with sufficient cameras to track every time goods are taken or removed from the shelves, allowing shoppers to collect goods and then leave the supermarket without manual checking of all the goods. Other supermarkets and convenience chains are now looking for similar technology to Amazon Go and many alternatives have appeared. Startups like AiFi, Zippin and Standard Cognition are offering similar propositions. Given the high convenience of such offerings, it is just a short matter of time before Australian convenience stores see this as a way to attract customers. We are already offering express cashless supermarkets as well as supermarkets that have express-only checkouts.
  • Your smartphone camera learns new tricks: Your smartphone camera can snap great pics. Now what about if it was an Internet of Things sensor? Don’t laugh: it’s becoming a viable alternative to specialist sensor deployments, and it’s already in your pocket. In the first generation of Internet of Things (IoT) deployments, specialist sensor technologies were used to solve specific problems, for example, motion sensors, parking sensors, or heart rate sensors. However, it’s turned out that cameras can be used in place of those sensors and more, and with the continuing improvement in Artificial Intelligence, a camera that has been deployed can be used for additional sensing purposes once in the field. Telstra has done tests to show that a simple Raspberry Pi can be trained up to classify whether a desk is occupied or not, and has been able to use AI-equipped cameras to measure river height for tracking water flows. Enterprises will increasingly consider and select a camera-based solution over a specialist sensor for their IoT solutions.
  • Ultra-wideband become the coolest new chips you’ve never heard of: There will be more devices supporting the new Ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, which can be used within a short-range for accurately and quickly measuring distances to other UWB-equipped devices. We have used UWB in our work with Transurban to make roadside workers safer, by understanding their precise position on the side of the road without relying on GPS. While UWB has been a niche, industrial technology to date, I expect the inclusion in 2020 smartphones to give it a boost in the same way that iBeacon gave Bluetooth Low Energy a boost. It might be used to know who is in front of the television and change the profile of shows accordingly, or know whether you are immediately in front of your smart door lock and unlock the door for you. If it gets customer traction, I expect it to appear in many smartphones and other devices over the next 10 years.
  • Smartphones get weird again: For a while there, it seemed that every new smartphone looked the same – a rectangle with a glass front. Perhaps there was a notch or cut-out for cameras on the front also. However, the reduction in differentiation of smartphone form-factors has spurred innovation to find new ways to stand out from the crowd. This year, we have started seeing pop-up and flip-around cameras from various smartphone makers to increase the screen real-estate to be used for pixels. Also supporting the quest for more pixels has been Samsung with its foldable smartphones, providing a mini-tablet that folds in half to fit in the pocket. The Motorola Razr is back again with a foldable screen inside a flip-phone. More than a gimmick, these foldable phones have created a genuinely useful proposition where your screen size isn’t limited by the size of your pocket or bag. It’s also worth mentioning Google’s Project Soli has created the radar chip in the Google Pixel 4, which has the potential to open up new ways to interact with smartphones beyond touch or speech. When a phone is on a table, this technology may allow fine-grained gestures in the air to control it. It’s so amazing and fun to see this burst of innovation.
  • 4G becomes the self-driving/connected car network: Connected cars have been around for a few years, offering maps for turn-by-turn navigation, embedded infotainment, or even remote concierge services. However, the connection to the car is being used to make driving safer. In Europe, 2020 model Volvo cars warn each other of where roads are slippery or if a Volvo nearby has turned on its hazard signals. This was initially limited to Scandinavian countries, and is likely to progress to more markets next year. In the self-driving world, Alphabet’s Waymo vehicles are currently operating in some states around America at level 4 autonomy, which means no one is sitting behind the steering wheel. We’ll see other automotive brands mass-producing similar autonomous vehicle innovations next year.
  • Electric micromobility goes global: Micromobility is the concept that people will use short-range, single passenger, powered transport options like e-bikes, e-skateboards and e-scooters for short last-mile trips to/from public transport like buses or trains. Electric bikes (e-bikes) have relatively consistent rules for use across Australia, however, the rules about e-scooters are highly dependent on the state, city and whether a trial is currently underway. Even these guidelines may change, as different trials are proposed or underway, so the cities and states involved are now in a position to be able to set clear regulations that safely enable the technology for the public.

Top 11 trends for the decade

Step into the future with us as we ponder what will be possible with technology in 2030!

  • The death of the password: we’re already seeing the beginning of the end for passwords, which will decline over the decade. (Hooray!);
  • Telcos go open source: open source adoption in the telco industry accelerates innovation and enables standardisation and commodification of much of the telco hardware stack. We’re already doing it!;
  • Next-generation wireless: the introduction of 6G and Wi-Fi 7 later in the decade based on typical standards organisation timeframes;
  • More secure Internet of Things (IoT): cybersecurity solutions to come packaged with IoT connectivity to address risks of connecting up everything;
  • IoT goes battery-free: monitoring and positioning devices can be left in the field for as long as the sensors last;
  • Brain-machine interfaces: research such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink enables people to interact with machines without moving a muscle;
  • The rise of quantum computers: viable quantum computers for solving real-world useful problems will emerge, but will probably not be readily available to members of the public;
  • Bio-computers: systems of biologically derived molecules (such as DNA and proteins) to perform computational calculations involving storing, retrieving, and processing data;
  • Connected aerial vehicles will take flight: Remotely piloted drones for imagery, sensing, delivery and even transport applications become commonplace;
  • Driverless cars will finally arrive: true automated features will appear in mid-range vehicles such as speed zone aware cruise control and automated highway driving, and remote driving will become possible in certain areas, and
  • AR headsets will see the light: the rise of smart eyewear will finally displace screens in the pocket.

Here’s to the next techade!