Over the last few years, the impact of information and communication technologies on society has been enormous. ICT has deeply affected and reshaped most parts of our society, while radically influencing the global economy. No one can predict with certainty what role it will play in the future, but we do know that it will be significant.
One aspect of the growth of ICT in 2014 has undoubtedly been its entry into the "mobile era." It is a tool that constitutes a new infrastructure, changing the way our societies function, while its technical applications give us totally new opportunities to develop new and better solutions to our existing problems.
As the latest International Telecommunication Union publication "2014 Measuring the Information Society Report" notes, the world witnessed continued growth in ICT last year and, by end-2014, almost 3 billion people had used the Internet, up from 2.7 billion at end-2013. While the growth in mobile-cellular subscriptions is slowing as the market reaches saturation levels, mobile broadband remains the fastest-growing market segment, with continuous double-digit growth rates in 2014 and an estimated global penetration rate of 32 per cent.
International bandwidth has also grown steeply, at 45 per cent annually from 2001 and 2013, and developing countries' share of total international bandwidth increased from around 9 per cent in 2004 to almost 30 per cent.
The growth in Internet users ― including via smartphones and smart pads ― has witnessed a parallel, steep growth in the volume of Internet content. More and more people are actively participating in the information society by creating, sharing and uploading content and using social media and other Internet-based applications, covering a large range of topics and sectors.
Going ahead, this year we are likely to see a consolidation of the gains that have already been made, and there will progress on many other technologies that are now on the periphery.
Some of the technologies that have been forecast to make a big impact among consumers in 2015 include, among others, mobile cloud computing, the Internet of Things, 3-D printing, wearables and smart machines.
As noted by International Data Corporation, in 2015 the industry is going to accelerate its transition to the "Third Platform" for innovation and growth, built on the technology pillars of mobile computing, cloud services, big data and analytics, and social networking.
"In 2015, the Third Platform will account for one-third of global ICT spending and 100 per cent of spending growth. The industry is now entering the most critical period yet in this era: the 'Innovation Stage,'" it said in a recent report.
Of this, MCC is expected to be a hotbed of activity and will grow briskly. The combination of cloud computing, mobile computing and wireless networks will bring rich computational resources to mobile users and network operators, as well as cloud computing providers.
The ultimate goal of MCC is to enable the execution of rich mobile applications on a plethora of mobile devices, with a rich user experience. And as smartphones and other mobile devices continue to grow in market share, despite the sudden dip witnessed in recent months, there is likely to be more focus on serving the diverse needs of the mobile customer. Especially when it comes to making their data available whenever and wherever they are. There will be a rise in the delivery of on-demand computing resources and with wireless data set to emerge as the largest and fastest-growing segment, one can expect the cloud services to grow in parallel.
Next is the new buzzword, the Internet of Things ― all-encompassing, cutting across existing product categories and industries ― which is supposed to provide an impetus to the so-called "third platform" era.
Its expected growth, along with the increasing consumer demand for an always-on, connected lifestyle, has made startups and large companies bullish on the IoT sector.
The invention of more and more intelligent and connected "things" will push the development of many new machines, applications and solutions. There are, however, many issues that still need to be tackled, including privacy, data ownership and spectrum congestion.
As noted by Jamie Moss, an analyst at the leading ICT research and advisory firm OVUM, "Its definition and constituents are expanding and evolving. All companies involved in the establishment of today's ICT service infrastructure believe they have a pivotal role to play in the IoT. However, few accurately know what that role will be, or have a realistic estimation of the size of the opportunity. The IoT is beset by far more questions than answers."
Experts are also expecting significant activity in 3-D printing. According to Gartner, 3-D printing will reach a tipping point over the next three years as the market for relatively low-cost 3-D printing devices continues to grow rapidly and industrial use expands significantly. New industrial, biomedical and consumer applications will continue to demonstrate that 3-D printing is a real, viable and cost-effective means of achieving improved designs, streamlined prototyping and short-term manufacturing.
Another segment that could see an explosion of innovation is wearables. But, even as many anxiously await the release of the iWatch, Apple's own foray into wearables, the interest already appears to be diminishing.
According to a survey conducted by Ovum in mid-2014 across 15 countries, less than 10 per cent of respondents planned to buy a wearable device in the next 12 months. At the same time, more than a dozen smart wearable devices have been launched since, and many of them have fared dismally.
As regards smart machines, there are already prototype autonomous vehicles, advanced robots, virtual personal assistants and smart advisers, which are likely to evolve, ushering in a new age of machine helpers. Experts think that the smart machine era could be the most disruptive in the history of IT. We can only wait and watch to see how they evolve.
Many new gadgets and software programs will make their way to the market in 2015, but the most understated technological change is the promise of new Wi-Fi standards. Emerging standards will increase Wi-Fi performance this year.
Also, when HTML 5 finally hits the market this year, it is set to become an essential technology for many organisations. With this new system, Web development tools will mature, as will the popularity of mobile Web and hybrid applications. Ultimately, businesses will be able to easily and quickly deliver applications across multiple platforms in a way they never could before, while consumers will be able enjoy superior-quality applications.
There will also likely be an uptick in mobile payment technologies as more and more companies roll out their services, and consumers get accustomed to convenient cashless transactions. In addition, there will be more on-demand apps for various services, like Uber, leading to the so-called sharing economy.
In short, be prepared for seamless mobile access, smarter and more flexible wearable mobile devices, and increasingly strong and flexible cloud computing technology. Moreover, mobile office, information sharing, socialization, electronic business, Internet finance and other services will become accessible anytime and anywhere, further improving our lives with added convenience. There will of course be more security challenges as hackers become more sophisticated.