As we enter 2021, I’d like to briefly look back at the year that was to reflect on all that happened — and to gain insights into what to expect in the new year. I think it goes without saying that 2020 was a year like we’ve never experienced before.
This year, the switch to mass remote work strained networks, placing a new onus on rapid digital transformation to enable continued productivity and innovation. From a technology perspective, the legacy of the pandemic could be its ability to accelerate digital transformation by several years, as we hit the “fast forward” button on many existing tech trends, including flexible work environments and the adoption of cloud.
As we embark on a new year, all these transformational changes and the adoption of technologies to support them will have a compound effect, accelerating innovation even faster than before. With that in mind, here are eight predictions for business networking advances in 2021.
5G New Radio Will Help Make 5G Benefits Real
Over the past several years, there’s been no shortage of promises about how 5G will revolutionize how we work and use technology. Well, 2021 is the year we could finally see 5G begin to meet expectations, and it will be due to 5G New Radio (NR) — a radio access technology for 5G native mobile networks that will start to see wide deployment by carriers. This means network capacity for wireless users will be greatly increased, with lightning-fast data speeds that can power everything from advanced machine learning to industrial IoT.
SASE Will Gain Traction as the Next Generation of Security
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the move to mass remote work, organizations realized they needed to revisit their network plans to ensure they could provide remote access to their network at scale from anywhere and at all times.
This, in turn, has greatly accelerated an emerging cybersecurity concept called secure access service edge (or SASE) that supports offices and remote workers through a cloud-delivered set of security and access services. SASE figures to make a huge impact in the market beginning in 2021, with Gartner predicting that 40% of enterprises will have strategies to adopt the technology by 2024, as organizations start to make overall network and security decisions based on remote worker support.
Microsoft Teams Enterprise Takeover
In 2021, expect to see Microsoft Teams solidify its hold as the communications platform of choice for corporate America with external voice integration. This will result in many organizations moving all voice and external videoconferencing to the platform, enabling the long-overdue data mining of phone calls.
Data mining through Teams promises to help organizations uncover “hidden gold” in even the most innocuous customer calls by employing algorithms that can do everything from analyzing customer service interactions to identifying opportunities for upselling and analyzing sentiment of voice calls.
SD-WAN & Artificial Intelligence Supercharge Digital Transformation
The Covid-19 pandemic brought organizations face to face with many hard truths in 2020, one of them being that higher bandwidth, faster speeds, secure connections and adaptable networks are more of a business necessity than ever in an era of dispersed workforces and accelerated innovation.
In 2021, we’re going to see more organizations turn toward SD-WAN to transform and secure their networks. This will create the network agility required to run increasingly powerful artificial intelligence and machine learning applications and free up human resources to drive more efficient business outcomes.
Smart Monitoring Technology Will Patrol Corporate Networks
Last year, the pandemic forced enterprises to extend their networks to employee homes, demanding a new level of network flexibility and security. This put tremendous stress on networks, distracting IT teams and opening vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to exploit.
To shore up their networks in 2021, organizations will turn to new networking monitoring products that work behind the scenes, reading network information to ensure everything is working correctly and reporting problems immediately when they’re discovered.
Unwanted Robocalls Will Be Vanquished
If there’s one issue that unites Americans more than anything else, it’s a deep disdain for robocalls. Phone users in the U.S. receive tens of billions of them each year. However, there’s good news coming in 2021: the FCC’s new STIR/SHAKEN standard will allow for action against anomalous traffic levels and call attempts from unregistered users — giving us the green light to vanquish robocalls altogether. The emergence of the new standard will clear the way for intelligent robocall-blocking technology that will stop virtually all unwanted robocalls before your phone rings.
Private 5G Networks Will Take Root
As mentioned in my first prediction, 2021 will be the year when 5G NR finally gives 5G networks the boost they need to start performing like we’ve been promised they would. At the same time, we’re likely to see some organizations — particularly governments — build their own private 5G networks to guard against the security risks inherent in public networks, while still enjoying the benefits of 5G. Initially, the focus will be for IoT networks, which will benefit greatly from the added security private 5G will offer, while the increased density and speed enhancements will create bigger and better IoT applications.
Government Security Gets Serious with TIC 3.0
As the remote workforce and cloud migration pressures mount for public entities, the defined and acceptable Trusted Internet Connection (TIC) structures from the U.S. government continue to be redefined and restructured. These guidelines were designed to secure government networks against surging cyberthreats and other emerging risks, like those associated with IoT. In 2021, new TIC platforms and technologies will emerge to allow agencies to monitor their networks and access reporting and performance details in near real-time on both data and voice services. Taken together, these new platforms will finally give federal agencies the tools they need to effectively monitor their users and networks.
This article was originally featured in Forbes.