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If 2018 has signaled anything, it has signaled likely epochal change in an industry already used to dynamism.

The new epoch appears to be heading our way, perhaps sooner than many of us thought. This year saw one industry leader predicting millions of entirely new IT jobs and far reaching applications of AI in cloud services. Innovation is pushing, say experts, new forms of industrialization into an era of Industry 4.0. The cloud will be a pervasive element, as we saw argued on the PTC Blog, and will seemingly extend everywhere.

Are we leaving anyone behind? The latest statistics show that over half the world now has access to the Internet. There’s a steady improvement in adoption, but many people still find affordability a deterrent. More than 300 million people in 49 countries have 1Gbps service.

The 5G Gamechanger
2018 will likely be seen as the year we finally recognized 5G as being the most far reaching disruptive driver to date, bringing with it complex technology, applications, organizational, policy, and even geopolitical consequences. Telstra’s CEO said 5G could “change the world.” It needs big investments. Billion dollar rollouts are being contracted and set to be deployed.

Some say that 5G will act as a major stimulus to improve performance to the next level in IT networks and this may be in combination with IoT. But what is the impact on other infrastructures, such as cable? As rollouts begin, operational issues are increasingly important. Network planning and densification are hot topics. In-building coverage issues are potentially continuing concerns. Some operators warn about likely backhaul demands imposed by 5G on networks.

Specific market opportunities may still need fleshing out, as well. One study suggested fixed wireless may be the first incremental revenue opportunity in the 5G space. Early adopter behavior may provide key pointers to 5G success. We saw many announcements bringing 5G and IoT concepts together and more predictions for IoT. However, for the foreseeable future, some experts argue IoT still needs to find legitimate and convincing business cases to be successful. Thinking out of the box, the PTC Blog mused IoT possibilities in sports.

The ripples will spread beyond networking considerations. The industry impact is hard to gauge, but likely to be massive, and could change the landscape.

Geopolitics matters, too, within this epoch. Has a global arms race to launch 5G, and take the spoils, begun? Some say a successful 5G deployment would represent a massive national competitive advantage for the winner countries. In India, a government team said 5G could have USD1 trillion of economic impact nationally over two decades. Some see China upping its already intensive preparations. In South Korea, KT (the former Korea Telecom) announced its USD20 billion bet on 5G, and wanted to signup overseas partners. Sharing resources may well be a major strategy in the 5G rollout landscape for many faced with huge investments.

In contrast, there were no shortage of US commentators continuing to fret over 5G leadership aspirations, although at least one authoritative study suggested it would be North America that would “lead the migration” to 5G after all. Criticisms have been stinging. FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, said getting it right was a priority at the highest levels of the U.S. government, but this arms race may only be the first one within the new epoch; watch out for the coming wave of AI and a new wave of Pacific region competition to begin.

Subsea Explodes
Everywhere in the Pacific, it seemed, was being cabled (or about to be cabled) in 2018. Consultants tallying the state of play suggest there has been a huge increase in long haul projects planned, with a probable doubling of capacity as a result across the region. New, very high capacity transoceanic systems, such as Hawaiki, were in the water and ready for service this year. Anticipating exploding demand, Hawaiki even announced a major capacity upgrade within months of installation. Related regions in East Asia and AustralAsia are also seeing substantial growth. The INDIGO cable system connecting Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia is expected to come on stream early in 2019, for example. The industry is propelled by massive demand and through OTT activity. Major OTT owned systems were also announced such as Dunant, a transatlantic project from Google. In two podcasts, PTC covered the new and prospective Pacific build outs at transoceanic, regional, and island levels, and the likely political and environmental issues they could raise.

Some may ponder what enormous capacities and price upheavals mean. Are we oversupplied? In the likely market, there may well be good reasons to declare there is no bandwidth glut after all. In fact, international capacity growth has probably accelerated. But we were also warned to expect a time when even recently deployed subsea cables become “extinct”. What do we do when we no longer need these infrastructures?

Satellite Finds New Purpose
The satellite industry could be set for a renaissance, and a major makeover, as fresh ideas and new entrepreneurs, seemingly unconstrained by received industry wisdom and practices, enter the sector. There are many ideas on the table. Experts suggested that onboard Wi-Fi demand may be the biggest driver for next generation satellite services. In the PTC Blog, we reported on the possibility of LEO HTS constellations for the Pacific, effectively the world’s largest addressable market. Industry leaders told PTC they see big new positives in service economics and delivery for the satellite space as value chains get simplified and new applications appear.

The satellite community seems increasingly confident of making access to the Internet possible for the people not yet connected. There are new ideas as well in terms of teaming them with IoT systems for new applications.

New satellite systems appear to be providing broadband across the Pacific and aim to support free public Wi-Fi rollouts. In the U.S., the FCC is mulling the problem of managing orbital debris. A string of launches were expected during the year, and industry observers were kept busy identifying the next hot ventures the satellite space will see in 2019.

Will Service Providers Transform?
The service provider space remains complex. To provide a global network, many entities must play their part. Within this epoch of change, service providers must transform their networks, and go digital to service future demands, say experts.

Some suggest 5G could reshape the market and bring new players especially within the smart city era. But are many prepared to make a successful leap? Nokia’s CEO told the industry it “should move out of the comfort zone” for the 5G era.

There are several dimensions of change for service providers. They face battlegrounds both to protect their businesses, and to fight back against challenges from both inside their industry space and outside it, particularly from OTT, cloud, and data center players. Commentators mused new battlegrounds. Could service providers fight back at the network edge where the cloud offers opportunities? Who will win the home Wi-Fi and smart home era?

What they do may boil down to the simple (but complex) question of leadership in a digital age. Managing this disruption will likely need boldness and vigor. Leaders will need to be clear and strategic in the directions they set.

New technologies are heading up. The PTC Blog suggested open optical networking was about to make a major impact on service provider structure. Could blockchain be a catalyst in the service provider armory too? What do CEOs in various sectors want from blockchain? In a podcast, we spoke with CEOs about the potential for blockchain in the service provider space.

In carrier services, SD WAN seems a very hot topic now for many major service providers. But how far can this be linked to digital transformation in the service provider environment?

Data Centers See Even Higher Growth
The data center ecosystem in a real sense is becoming the critical feature of the digital world as enterprises come to depend on it. How far can this go? Business transformation on a big scale is a probability. The sheer availability of data, say some experts, may mean entirely new forms of commercial activity involving product co-creation inspired by customers. Some muse we will have to develop new rules within organizations to admit the new data world properly. We will need to learn to share, they said.

Not only are data centers supporting digital transformation across the board, the definition of data center is mutating as well. Others are making predictions for the data center world in 2019. One trend suggests more distributed systems in the data center world. Hybrid ready edge data centers may resolve bandwidth and compute challenges in what will be highly process intensive applications.

The likely interconnection needs will be intense. Equinix’s Global Interconnection Index reported that installed interconnection bandwidth capacity is expected to reach 5,000 terabits per second by 2020, a 4x increase from 2016. Powering data centers within this prospective growth phase will be a major challenge, as well. The PTC Blog examined microgrids as a future development designed for this distributed environment, and asked if data centers will be driven underground in an effort to conserve energy and footprints. Green credentials will be important.

The PTC podcast reported from Hong Kong and what is probably the last geographical frontier in the data center world: China. Consumer and business broadband needs apart, some big trends are driving interconnection, says Equinix, including: digital business, urbanization, cybersecurity, data compliance, and business ecosystems.

The Policy Picture: More Intense Than Ever
Within the imminent 5G global leadership race, geopolitics and trade friction pushed new legislation this year. In the U.S., the foreign direct investment legislation was finally given its FIRRMA overhaul. Chinese telecom manufacturers saw security worries across the world.

With the pressures from 5G deployment, regulators probably have their hands full. Spectrum and spectrum auctions remained a big feature of 2018. In the U.S., the FCC announced the first 5G spectrum auction in the U.S., and eased important street and pole level access rules, amid mixed reception.

International policy meets this year have anticipated a wave of AI, 5G, and IoT demand arriving together with unpredictable consequences in the regulatory arena; new policy guidelines may assist regulators to handle it.

The standout policy development of the year was probably the European Union’s GDPR which, post Cambridge Analytica, has forced a new agenda for policymakers and chimed with many public concerns. Privacy, particularly consumer privacy, remains an extremely hot topic. Given the explicit and implicit impact of GDPR, is robust consumer data protection likely to spread further? The PTC Blog sought expert views from around the industry and around the world. This digital world, for all its promise, seems not without risk. Organizational security issues and compliance are coming to the fore for everyone.

In the U.S., the net neutrality debate rumbled on, as does policymaking for bridging the digital divide and rural broadband rollout. In 2018, regulators everywhere were busy with these and related issues. Malaysia said it would deploy a national plan to supply rural broadband in the near term. In India, the target of deploying 50Mbps services nationally by 2025 was given more ammunition with the launch of a broadband readiness index.

Regulators in Australia say they are anticipating an “interesting competition dynamic” if 5G becomes a viable alternative to fixed broadband, and the country finalized its new rules for the telco marketplace. New Zealand launched consultations to overhaul its fiber broadband rules. The Philippines, in a heavily watched competition, selected its third telco. Thailand said it would set spectrum auctions for 2019 in a market that saw several uncertainties in 2018.

Predictions Anyone?
The year saw upheaval. But those brave to do so, still make predictions for the coming year. In Asia-Pacific, some see more 5G momentum, more data centers, programmable infrastructure, AI incubation, and virtualization.

Some predict more radical transformations: zero touch behaviors of systems that do not require human intervention, an expanding Internet of Skills that will give us new levels of reach and capability, adaptable cyber systems, trust technologies to ensure users’ protection, and ubiquitous radio that will deliver high data rates for everyone, everywhere.

Sometimes, we forget our predictions, but at least one major player followed their previous forecasts up, and concluded they were too timid after all. The probable star technology of 2018 – 5G – may indeed prove to be a gamechanger for everyone. But what will really happen? How does it compare to nuclear power, or the Internet itself?

Back on the Blog
PTC produced a new Broadband Report, this edition covering the Philippines. The PTC Academy, one held in Guam and one held in Bangkok, focused on navigating strategic issues in a rapidly changing global marketplace. PTC Projects included the use of drones in Fiji to engage youth. Innovation, we saw, is more important than ever in the Pacific region.

On the PTC Blog, we asked if cryptojacking was the hottest crime of the year. We variously interviewed regulators in Australia, Singapore, Brazil, and the European Union to discover what policymakers have on their minds. More are to follow. Our continuing series of CEO interviews proved inspiring. Viasat’s Mark Dankberg discussed innovation, Seaborn Network’s Larry Schwartz explored installing a major subsea system, while Carl Grivner of Colt and Marc Halbfinger of PCCW Global predicted futures for service providers, and CITIC Telecom International CPC’s Stephen Ho viewed customer service as the key ingredient in future business. In the data center sector, Equinix’s Charles Meyers emphasized leverage as the key to future success, while Chayora’s Jonathan Berney told us what it was like to be an entrepreneur on the new frontiers of the industry.

The appearance of so much potential in the ICT world had many speculating that 2018 would be eventually seen as a point of inflexion on the path both to next generation networks and access for all to new capabilities. In the center of it all, the Pacific region has continued to barrel forward in its own development, and one that is likely to be pivotal in the new epoch.