Do you know your C-RAN from your SON, your WiGig from your Bluetooth Low Energy and your MirrorLink from your machine learning? If you don't, then you soon will after you've finished browsing through this slideshow.
So dive in and educate yourself concerning ten tech trends that get little attention, but are already having a big impact.
- Also check out: 5 trends set to shape computing in 2015 (opens in new tab)
Device-to-device communications (D2D)
Smartphones are about to become nodes in the network. Often called D2D or 'proximity services', device-to-device communications is self-explanatory – and completely revolutionary. In a way it's odd that the walkie talkie was replaced by cell phones that can't communicate directly with one another, but the regression race is on.
D2D is designed to take the strain from cellular networks by kicking in when technically possible – send an email, a photo or a video to your pal nearby and that data will go via Bluetooth Low Energy (a tech we'll cover later on) or Wi-Fi Direct, and not via a cellular tower.
Qualcomm's LTE Direct tech even allows smartphones to talk to each other at a distance of 500m. The endgame? No more cell towers.
It's pattern recognition, it's statistical learning, it's predicting the future, it's artificial intelligence (opens in new tab), and it's hot stuff in modern computer science. Although it gets complicated, a simple definition of machine learning (opens in new tab) is when computers take the initiative with no input from humans. Well not much – the algorithms that inform the computer's choices must first be dreamed up by data scientists since computers have no generalised analytical ability whatsoever.
Machine learning is used by Siri (opens in new tab), Cortana (opens in new tab) and Echo (opens in new tab), by email spam filters, search engines, face recognition, speech recognition, and all kinds of recommendation software. Its next home? The smart car, with machine learning tools for the layman after that.
Often called Centralised-RAN or Cloud-RAN, this technology from the China Mobile Research Institute is the cloud and the cellular network getting married.
The Cloud Radio Access Network (C-RAN) – the next big thing after LTE (opens in new tab) – is a new architecture that streamlines cellular networks. An easy way for mobile operators to grow both capacity and the speed of wireless networks is by making each cell in a cell phone network virtual. The cell towers and infrastructure may remain, but by using C-RAN some components are centralised in the cloud, and shared between cells. C-RAN depends on wired links for faster data transfer.
It supports 2G, 3G, 4G, and can easily integrate with the cellular and wireless standards of the future, too.
Bluetooth Low Energy is changing the Internet of Things. This latest version of the short-wavelength UHF radio wave protocol that has been part of our digital lives since the dawn of this century is set to make the IoT a practical reality (opens in new tab).
The biggest recent change is that IoT devices can now talk to each other over Bluetooth without using a phone or computer as a conduit. The very latest 4.2 specification, debuting on devices now, is pushing the IoT to new heights. The first change is that beacons (opens in new tab) can only talk to a phone if the user has given permission, the data capacity has increased 10-fold, and the data transfer speed has risen by as much as 250%. Bluetooth 4.2 devices can also get on the web directly over IPv6.
Mobile broadband knows no bounds. The high-speed data standard for smartphones is LTE-Advanced (opens in new tab), otherwise known as 4G+ or LTE+, and it's all about increasing speeds. LTE-Advanced services have already been launched in 45 countries, with most supporting Category 6 devices that can handle above 150Mbps and up to 300Mbps.
"83% of LTE-Advanced networks support Category 6 and the majority support the top rate of 300Mbps," said Alan Hadden, VP of Research at industry body the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) in July 2015. Several operators are trialling LTE-Advanced technology capable of supporting up to 450Mbps. 4K video streaming and uploads, here we come.
Most new and upcoming handsets from the likes of Apple (opens in new tab), Samsung, LG, Huawei, Sony, ZTE, HTC and Motorola can handle LTE-Advanced.
Are you ready for Gigabit Wi-Fi? High-speed wireless data transfer is what WiGig (opens in new tab) promises, which may not sound very exciting until you realise the speeds involved. WiGig – also known as 802.11ad – can push files, photos and music 10 times faster than a regular wireless network using Wi-Fi, and can ramp up as fast as 7Gbps.
Forget about changing your router; WiGig is all tied up with the D2D movement we've already mentioned. Created by Intel but now under the umbrella of the Wi-Fi Alliance, WiGig is perfectly suited to a future where all smartphone users are filming in Full HD video, and soon in 4K. Instead of clogging up the internet, the theory goes that WiGig will be the fastest way to transfer such files between devices.
WeGig is increasingly being used in conjunction with 5G cellular networks, too, with Intel recently collaborating with SK Telecom in South Korea. Expect a seamless experience when transferring a big file; you send it as normal from your phone to another, which intelligently swaps from cellular to WiGig to complete the transfer. Expect a series of experiments, trials, beta tests… and a raft of new business models – though WiGig's time may not come until 5G networks (opens in new tab) appear.
Battery technology for portable devices
Batteries are delaying the revolution. Almost everything we use these days is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (opens in new tab) – but every time you recharge your phone before you go to sleep at night is a reminder of the complete lack of progress being made by chemists in the back rooms of consumer electronics companies. So numerous are the devices that need rechargeable batteries that any future solution needs to be very cheap, but there are breakthroughs on the horizon.
Graphene-coated silicon has been mooted (opens in new tab) as a way of doubling the charge of a battery, while others have been working on aluminium-ion batteries (opens in new tab) and even on using sand (opens in new tab). Improvements to battery life may prove incremental, but there's no doubt that research in this critical area is now booming.
It's super-thin, super-strong and super-flexible, and it conducts electricity better than copper, and heat better than anything. It's been called the miracle material of the twenty-first century, but graphene (opens in new tab) really could be about to shake electronics to the core. Mass production and the 'band-gap problem (opens in new tab)' remain, but now graphene can be printed in ink form there's a growing expectation that it will, one day, utterly change computing.
Expect broadband internet that's a hundred times faster, flexible phones (like LG's G Flex, pictured), powerful RFID tags and wireless sensors, super-efficient high-speed computing that makes Moore's Law (opens in new tab) look like laziness, and a rash of new wearables. It's all one (or maybe two) technical breakthroughs away.
The self-organising network (SON)
Cellular networks are in an automation boom. One of the biggest wireless trends of all is the self-organising network (SON), which essentially takes the human out of the day-to-day tasks of running an ever more complex network.
There are various flavours of architecture, from distributed SON (D-SON) to centralised SON (C-SON) and hybrid SON. All have primarily been created to help run 4G networks, the greater bandwidth of which means ever increasing complexity and performance needs. However, at its core SON is about saving costs for network operators by eliminating the need for manual configuration of equipment and troubleshooting by people.
In-vehicle smartphone standards
So far the connected car as a coherent concept has been a mess, with most car manufacturers keen to push their own platforms for apps and integration with devices. However, the smartphone-car interface is beginning to coalesce around three operating systems that let smartphones and tablets talk to in-car infotainment systems: Android Auto (opens in new tab), Apple CarPlay (opens in new tab) and Broadcom's MirrorLink (opens in new tab).
With most upcoming connected cars compatible with one or all of these systems, expect industry chat to become more about processing speeds, the use of capacitive touchscreens, and the functionality of apps rather than which platform is supported.