Because networks operate behind the scenes in our homes and businesses, we usually don’t think about them unless something goes wrong. Yet computer network technology is continuing to develop in new and interesting ways. Some key developments that have transpired over the past several years include:
- The growing popularity of cloud computing and cloud storage. Instead of buying physical copies of movie, music and game media, consumers increasingly buy digital licenses and download their content over the internet.
- Improvements to mobile (cellular) network infrastructure – both deployments of 4G and also enhancements to older 3G networks – that have enabled people in developed areas who can afford it to use their smartphones as mobile televisions and video broadcasting systems.
- Along with that, an underlying need of some people to stay connected at all times, whether via a home network, at the workplace, via public Wi-Fi hotspots or smartphones.
- The difficulty faced by service providers (including Google) in expanding residential fiber optic cable internet service due to installation costs and increased competition from other broadband providers.
Here are five of the most important areas and trends to watch in the year ahead.
1. How Many IoT Gadgets Will You Buy?
The networking industry likes to make and sell gadgets. Consumers like to buy gadgets… as long as they seem useful and the price is right. In 2018, an array of new devices targeted at the Internet of Things (IoT) market will undoubtedly compete for our attention. Categories of products that will be especially interesting to watch include:
- Wearables of all kinds: Will there be a follow-on to the Apple Watch Series, or a new product from a competitor, that takes the wrist device market by storm? And what about glasses?
- Smart kitchens: If all of our kitchen appliances could talk to each other, would they have anything interesting to say?
- Smarter light bulbs Expect additional improvements in bulb quality, programming options and ease of integration.
- Public (social) applications: Besides equipment in our homes, IoT can have applications in stores, restaurants, and municipal locations.
2. Get Ready for Even More Hype over 5G
Even while 4G LTE mobile networks don’t reach many parts of the world (and won’t for years), the telecommunications industry has been hard at work developing the next-generation “5G” cellular communication technology.
5G is intended to boost the speeds of mobile connections dramatically. Exactly how fast consumers should expect these connections to go, and when can they buy 5G devices? These questions might not be answered definitively during 2018 as the industry technical standards need to gel first.
However, just like what happened years ago when 4G was initially being developed, companies aren’t waiting and won’t be shy about advertising their 5G efforts. Prototype versions of some elements of what might someday become part of standard 5G networks will continue to be tested in labs. While reports from these tests will tout maximum data rates of many gigabits per second (Gbps), consumers should be just as interested in the promise of improved signal coverage with 5G.
3. The Pace of IPv6 Rollout Continues to Accelerate
IPv6 will one day replace the traditional Internet Protocol addressing system we are familiar with (called IPv4). The Google IPv6 Adoption page illustrates roughly how fast the deployment of IPv6 is progressing. As shown, the pace of IPv6 rollout has continued to accelerate since 2013 but will require many more years to reach a full replacement of IPv4. In 2018, expect to see IPv6 mentioned in the news more often, especially pertaining to business computer networks.
IPv6 benefits everyone either directly or indirectly. By expanding the available IP address space to accommodate an almost limited number of devices, managing subscriber accounts becomes easier for Internet providers. IPv6 adds other improvements, too, that improve the efficiency and security of TCP/IP traffic management on the Internet. People who administer home networks need to learn a new style of IP address notation, but this is not too difficult.
4. The Rise of Multi-Band Routers
Tri-band home wireless routers emerged as a popular home networking product category during 2016. Dual-band wireless broadband routers began the trend to multi-band Wi-Fi networking starting with 802.11n, and tri-band models continue that trend of offering ever greater amounts of total network bandwidth on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
Some consumers may be challenged to justify the premium prices that newer tri-band models carry. Whereas the trend for most consumer electronics is toward lower prices, tri-band routers cost significantly more than did higher end models a few years ago. Look for the prices to come down in the next year as vendor competition increases.
5. Should You Be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence ?
The field of AI develops computers and machines with human-like intelligence. When world-renowned scientist Steven Hawking (in late 2014) said “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” people took notice. AI is not new – researchers have studied it for decades. Yet in recent years, the pace of technical developments in artificial intelligence has significantly accelerated. Should we be worried about the direction it is headed in 2018?
In short, the answer is – maybe. The ability of computer systems like Deep Blue to play chess at world champion levels helped legitimize AI 20 years ago. Since then, both the processing speed of computers and the ability to exploit it have advanced tremendously as evidenced by the impressive victories of AlphaGo over world-class Go players.