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By Femi Oshiga, vice president of Service Providers, Middle East and Africa

Every year, we predict what trends will impact the networking market in the coming year. 2020 was particularly inaccurate because nobody was anticipating the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed the way people work and play. Still, some of our projections based on fundamental underlying trends came true, while others got delayed.

What we got right

We predicted that 2020 would be the year Wi-Fi 6 access points go mainstream, and they have. Customers are increasingly opting for Gigabit speeds in the home and office, according to Dell’Oro Group’s Wireless LAN 2020 quarterly report, but the uptake hasn’t been as fast as previous technology transitions.

New frequency bands are slowly becoming available, and 2020 was a year in which operators took advantage of whatever they could. 5G is commercially available in at least seven countries as of early 2020: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Other operators are preparing to bid on C-band licenses (3.7-3.98 GHz) which will spur a large amount of investment.  In all, 2020 has been a year when the mid-band spectrum for 5G became available.

Predictably, operators continued their fiber push deeper into the network. The pandemic drove increased needs for remote workers who are demanding more bandwidth. Operators are using everything at their disposal to address this need and the continued deployment of PON, all of which maximize capacity and improve service performance, as we predicted. CommScope has worked with network operators across Nigeria, South Africa and other markets to deliver data and coverage via fiber connectivity.

Finally, we correctly noted that AI adoption would accelerate. AI technology, which is often termed ML (Machine Learning), is increasingly finding its way into networks.

What we missed

We predicted that basic set-top boxes would evolve into home control centers with far field voice, speakers, and visual assistants as consumers and providers leverage the demarcation of these devices in heavily-trafficked rooms. CommScope rolled out its own Smart Media Device with many of these functions (except for visual assistants), but the evolution largely didn’t happen in 2020. We still believe it lies in the future.

On balance, we were directionally correct but optimistic on timing in our 2020 key trends predictions. With improved Covid-19 therapeutics and the potential of vaccines, we can look forward to increased mobility and economic activity, which will drive increased network services demand with the ability to make significant infrastructure improvements at the edge in 2021. Watch this space for our predictions for next year.

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