Tech Leaders Predict 2013 Will Be All About Networks

Small cells will be a key technology for 2013

As is traditional at the start of the year, technology thought leaders are often asked to risk their reputations by making predictions about the hot technology for the forthcoming year. We invited some of our Tech 25 panel of Europe’s leading technologists to share their thoughts.

They were asked to make predictions for 2013 with three sets of odds: Something that is pretty certain, predictions that are rather more risky, and finally ones that are complete wild cards.

Last year was all about the growth of mobile technology; this year some respondents turned to the other side of the equation, the network, for their low-risk predictions.

Tim Watkins, VP Western Europe for Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei, predicted that “2013 will see the network continue its transformation—transformation to smarter, and bigger ‘pipes’,” he said.

“Bigger pipes refers to the anticipated surging demand for a 60-fold bandwidth increase in the next five years.”

Surging data demand means existing cellular networks are going to struggle, so Ben Verwaayen, CEO of U.S.-French telecom equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent ALU.FR +1.40%, suggests 2013 will be the year of small cells—mobile network cells whose coverage is measured in square meters, not square kilometers. They allow the same frequencies to be used over and again.

According to Süreyya Ciliv, CEO of Turkcell, Turkey’s largest network operator, this surging demand will be driven by a “hyper-connected” world.

“In this new era of mobility, Internet, smartphones, and applications, Hyper-connectivity is set to redefine the relationships between individuals, consumers, and enterprises,” he said.

That interconnectivity was also a key feature for both Ralf Schneider, group CIO for Munich-based insurance giant Allianz and Oliver Bussmann, CIO of German software maker SAP. “Gartner talks about the Era of Nexus and I like this because it describes the coming together of big data, constant access and connection through mobile and social and new delivery capabilities through the Cloud,” said Mr. Bussmann.

Mr. Schneider said: “Companies have to find ways to exploit the potential of the massive amount of unstructured data available in the environment, e.g. from the web, link it to their structured data and convert it into meaningful information, available for instant analysis, interpretation and use in real time.”

The higher-risk predictions included a fascinating idea from Jass Sarai, U.K. technology leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who said we might see “real innovation in the pricing and selling of everything. It is not about the money you pay, but the combination of the money you pay and the information you share. For example, a car manufacturer sells you a car with a buy-back option. The price of this option changes daily based upon your usage. So you know real time, if you are a low mileage, safe driver who only travels during off peak times, your trade-in price will be more.”

Mr. Schneider suggested something similar. “In everyday life, services and solutions will develop that target the individual needs of customers in a certain temporary situation.”

Last year, our panel flagged the inexorable growth in Android, but so far games makers have not found users of Google's GOOG +0.33%operating system to be as willing to part with their cash as iPhone and iPad users. Kristian Segerstrale, executive vice president, digital for games maker Electronic Arts EA +2.04%(and previously CEO of Playfish) said 2013 might be “the year when Android takes off as a major revenue contributor globally to game and app makers, becoming a viable competitor to iOS in the global gaming market.”

But our tech leaders had the most fun when let off the leash. They were asked for a prediction for 2013 that was a complete wild card.

For Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft MSFT -0.90%International, that meant instantaneous voice translation. “It won’t be perfect, but it will be good enough to allow information to be freely shared globally, instantaneously and in multiple languages, including the most difficult ones like Chinese.” Nor is this so outlandish. As Mr. Courtois pointed out, “You can see a live demonstration of machine translation of [Microsoft] Chief Research Officer Rick Rashid’s spoken English into Chinese on the fly.”

Warren East, CEO of chip designer ARM, suggested “Intelligent sticking plasters linked to mobile phone apps, drug delivery by ointments and that helps carers with wound data to advise on times for changing, and drug administration,” might be on the cards; not such an outrageous suggestion considering the research already done into smart-wound dressings.

For Mr. Segerstrale “2013 will be the year of art,” he said. “2012 was the year of data. We were fixated on how to track, compile and analyze the massive amounts of data streaming around our world. This is still crucially important. But the translation of that data into beautiful things is the next big thing. 2012 proved data alone isn’t enough, it is there to support the art and craftsmanship of creating experiences. 2013 will bring that back. We must focus again on building beautiful things in this world. Beautiful things… built on foundations of excellent data.”

While the idea that 2013 will be a year of art sounds fanciful, if Big Data is to become the Next Big Thing, it will only be as useful as the stories it can tell, and what better way to tell a story than through images?

The final word, once again, has to go to Mr. Verwaayen. After correctly predicting last year that FIFA would implement some sort of goal-line technology, he blew it with a suggestion that Arsenal would win a trophy.

Continuing with his soccer-related punditry he said: “Arsenal will (just) qualify for the Champions’ League (oh, how aspirations have changed in a year) and Chelsea will fail to win any trophy at all.” His dedication to Arsenal may be his undoing.


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