Special-Edition Viewpoints Address The Pandemic Crisis

In the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, pathways and opportunities in technology commercialization are undergoing dramatic transformation on many fronts. To address Explorer clients' urgent need to understand both the near- and longer-term impacts, we are providing a special set of analyses for May and June about the pandemic's impact on technology commercialization. Because the developments we describe affect multiple technologies, we have organized our standard Technology Areas into six consequential technology domains. (Read the full announcement about these special analyses.)

  • The May 2020 documents identify a wide range of key forces that will likely have a major influence on prospects for the six technology domains, imagining a plausible range of alternative outcomes that these forces could have during the coming five to ten years. These outcomes serve as building blocks for creating effective responses to the pandemic.
  • The June 2020 documents provide a scenarios-based analysis for each of the six technology domains, with emphasis on how the key uncertain forces might interact with and influence commercialization pathways in alternative postpandemic futures. Also available is a special presentation—The Pandemic Crisis: Scenarios for the Future of Technology Development—summarizing the scenarios and their implications for the six technology domains.

We encourage clients to engage with all six special-edition Viewpoints in both May and June to gain a broad view of potential changes and opportunities in technology commercialization. Please contact us if you do not already have access to all six technology domains, and we will be happy to provide you with the remaining articles in the collection.

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About This Technology

Cell phones and mobile services are simply part of the fabric of most people's lives. Mobile-communications technologies have transformed the way we work, play, and relate to one another. Fourth-generation cellular technology is now available to the majority of users worldwide. Nearly three-quarters of the world's population use at least one mobile phone, with about 55% of mobile-communications users using a smartphone. Roughly 3 billion people make use of smartphones, mobile apps, high-data-rate connections, and new forms of social interaction that generate a steady stream of news and commentary. For many of these people, mobile devices have become highly available channels for just-in-time information access, work-anywhere productivity, find-anything shopping, pay-anywhere transactions, real-time navigation advice, and other transformative offerings.

People often use the word mobile to refer to typical cell-phone services that enable users to remain connected wirelessly to a network even in motion at high speeds. Much interest focuses on the competition among mobile services, smartphone brands, and app vendors. Yet Wi-Fi has become increasingly important for containing the price of data services and industry's costs for supporting increased data traffic on congested mobile networks. Wi-Fi also increasingly helps smartphones control connected everyday objects via cloud services. Additional wireless technologies—especially Bluetooth, GPS, and near-field communication—are also contributing to new waves of innovations, such as wearable devices, location-based information services, and mobile transactions. In some sense, smartphones have become universal remote controls for managing everyday life.

Now that the world has experienced several decades of mobile-services developments, what do technology road maps have in store, and what new applications and services will emerge? Developments in 5G networking aim toward dramatic increases in capacity, bandwidth, and coverage of networks. Such improvements aim to accommodate many wirelessly connected devices per person, eliminate network congestion at peak times, and accelerate creation of new applications. Emerging technologies include rapid creation of software-defined services, support for a greatly expanded Internet of Things, cashierless retail stores, use of artificial intelligence to enhance communications, and use of cellular radios for police and other emergency services. "Softwarization" promises to reduce infrastructure requirements and may offer many opportunities for carriers to outsource and for new partners to perform subsets of network operations. Automation and AI also promise to revolutionize network operations. Other advanced developments promise to use smart base stations and other computers near a network's edge, high-performance links for automated and driverless vehicles in motion, and miniature satellite phones that work anywhere on Earth. Many developers also envision a future that is rich with machine-to-machine communications, wearable sensors, and head-mounted augmented-reality displays that will allow users to multitask while standing and walking, leaving their hands free to use for diverse tasks.