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Emerging Telecom Trends To Watch In 2021

From 5G and edge computing, to IoT and SASE, here are the top telecom trends to watch for next year.

All Eyes On The Network  

The telco industry, like many industries, was shaken up in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses and consumers relied on connectivity this year more than ever before as employees moved off the campus and into their homes, students began learning from home or even in school parking lots, and many businesses had to find new ways to keep their doors open – often using technology to facilitate touchless or curbside services that were all enabled by the network.

Once seen as “emerging” technologies and telecom trends, like IoT and SD-WAN, are evolving and maturing. And promising technology, such as 5G and edge computing, are about to have their moments as new networking requirements demand faster connectivity and local computing power heading into next year.

From SD-WAN-becoming SASE, to networking footprint buildouts and brand-new use cases, here are five of the biggest telecom trends to be on the lookout for in 2021.

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5G

It goes without saying that one of the most prominent telecom trends in recent years will be even bigger in 2021 as carriers race to fill out their 5G networks and manufacturers introduce more 5G-capable devices to the market.

U.S. wireless giant T-Mobile, now combined with Sprint, said it will be offering nationwide 5G coverage by the end of next year, putting the pressure on its rivals -- the two biggest carriers in the country -- AT&T and Verizon, to keep pace. Dallas-based AT&T, for its part, in September said it‘s in the process of testing and developing its standalone 5G core. Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Verizon in October said it expects to see 5G mobility service revenues in 2021.

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Edge Computing

Alongside 5G, edge computing is about to hit an inflection point. The promising networking movement has only picked up steam in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive shift in networking requirements as companies needed to do business in new ways. These new use cases prompted a need for a new approach to IT.

In 2021, these new business models will facilitate the deployment of edge in production, according to research firm Forrester. AI won‘t just be in the data center -- it will be needed at the edge, and the rise of private 5G networks to empower use cases, such as remote inspection, monitoring, and employee safety will push along the edge computing trend next year. Forrester also predicts that public cloud spending will slow in 2021 in favor of edge computing spending, as businesses require their data stored more locally.

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IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT), which has been touted as one of the most significant trends to impact the telecom industry, took off in ways no one expected in 2020.

IoT is the connection of devices, endpoints, and assets that have never before been able to communicate with a network. The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses around the globe to get creative. From pop-up healthcare clinics in parking lots, to curbside ordering and touchless delivery at retail stores and restaurants, connectivity in new places and devices were required to keep certain industries up and running.

In 2021, demand for new IoT applications and solutions will continue to soar, largely being driven by healthcare, smart offices, remote asset monitoring, and location-based services, especially as some employees work to safely return to the office.

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Expanding Network Footprints

As IoT explodes and employees and students continue to work and learn from home, so will the need for more widespread network connectivity. Many service providers have been steady adding to their already-established infrastructure by expanding their fiber-based networks to reach more businesses and residential customers, such as AT&T and Comcast.

It goes without saying that the biggest carriers around the globe will also be continuing their work aggressively building out their 5G network footprints in an effort to be more competitive.

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SD-WAN Turned SASE

Now more than ever, service providers are focused on their core telecom and networking services and are relying on SD-WAN more and more for intelligent path control and traffic-steering based on the application. But the SD-WAN market is maturing, and security has to be part of the conversation heading into next year.

The shift from standalone SD-WAN to Secure access service edge (SASE) is already underway. SASE, which refers to the combination of SD-WAN and security, will be an all-important enterprise networking technology in 2021, especially as businesses operate in a distributed, or hybrid manner, with employees working from a variety of locations. The SASE Market is expected to grow at a 116 percent compound annual growth rate over the next five years, according to research firm Dell‘Oro Group.

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