It’s the end of another year and as always time for us at ZDNet to reflect on the tech trends that shaped the enterprise over the past 12 months. This time around, our editors from around the globe identified six technologies that stood out in 2019. Our panel of editors includes — TechRepublic’s Bill Detwiler, Larry Dignan, Chris Duckett, and Steve Ranger.
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Without further ado, here’s our list of tech that the greatest impact in 2019:
Cloud Computing: Multi-cloud becomes the new normal
When 2019 started, multi-cloud was more theory than reality. Of course, cloud vendors want their customers to be all-in on their infrastructure as a service, but enterprises like a little leverage. As a result, multi-cloud has usurped hybrid cloud as the architecture du jour. As we exit 2019, it’s unclear whether we’re any closer to this multi-cloud utopia, but a few mileposts include Dell Technologies’ move to put VMware at the center of its cloud platform, IBM’s purchase of Red Hat and the healthy competition for analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence workloads between the big three cloud giants. 2019 will go down as a year where multi-cloud building blocks were put in place. On other fronts, the cloud developed at a break-neck pace. Amazon Web Services developed competitive processors to run its own infrastructure, Microsoft Azure continued to solidify as No. 2 and Google Cloud Platform under CEO Thomas Kurian built out its sales ground game.
5G: Slowly walking into a high-speed future
5G technology promises speeds 10 to 100 times faster than 4G, ultra-low latency, and the ability to connect dramatically more devices to the Internet than existing networks. These next-generation mobile networks will transform business and push forward the evolution of technologies like autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things (IoT), edge computing, data analytics, and telemedicine. Beginning at the end of 2018 and accelerating in 2019, carriers deployed the first commercial 5G networks and handset manufacturers released the first 5G phones.
In April, Verizon launched its 5G network in Chicago and Minneapolis. In December, T-Mobile launched its 600MHz 5G service, which it claims reaches 200 million people in the US (about two-thirds of the population). AT&T rolled out a mmWave 5G network for business customers and a low-band 5G network for consumers. Sprint rolled out a mid-band 5G network in select areas of nine US cities. And, South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT said that by the end of October the country’s carriers (SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus) had 4 million subscribers to their 5G networks.
Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from 5G living up to its full potential as the transition from 4G to 5G will take many years. GSMA Intelligence, the research arm of the mobile operator trade association GSMA, estimates that even by 2025, 5G will only account for 15 percent of cellular connections (excluding cellular IoT devices). 2019 should be remembered as the year 5G took its first real steps into the mainstream, but we’ve certainly got a long way before we all have 2Gbps connections on our phones.
Security: Ransomware gets nastier, again
Ransomware is now 30 years old and it is getting meaner as it gets older. Encrypting individual PCs is no longer enough of a money-maker for these crooks who are now aiming at encrypting entire networks of devices. That means big paydays for criminals – and even bigger headaches for the businesses and other organisations that get hit. Across the year cities from Johannesburg to New Orleans were hit, along with hospitals and companies big and small. Local government, especially in the US, has suffered particularly badly this year.
Ransomware has targeted servers, network attached storage and back-ups, and gangs have found new ways of spreading their malware. And it seems that old ransomware doesn’t go away either – WannaCry is still infecting PCs and people are still trying to pay the ransom. It’s not all bad news; ransomware decryption tools have saved victims from paying out over $100 million to crooks. But with big rewards and little chance of getting caught, it’s hard to see the ransomware problem getting anything but worse.
Foldable devices: More than a fad, less than a trend
Flexible, rollable, or foldable displays have been around for years, but in 2019 we got our first foldable phones and another nudge toward a “post-pc” future.
Samsung was first major phone manufacturer out of the gate with the Galaxy Fold…announced in February and originally slated to go on sale in April. Unfortunately, Samsung was forced to delay the Fold’s launch when multiple media outlets reported malfunctioning or broken screens on their early review units. The Fold would eventually go on sale in September at a cost of $1,980. Huawei was next to the folding phone party with the Mate X, announced in February at Mobile World Congress 2019. Not only would the Mate X feature three cameras and three screens, it would also support 5G, and have an eye-popping $2,600 price tag. The Mate X went on sale in October, but only in China. In November, Motorola relaunched its storied Razr line of phones with a foldable Razr. Preorders for the new, $1,500 Razr begin on December 26 and US sales start on January 9, 2020. Verizon will be the exclusive US carrier.
Given the Galaxy Fold’s rocky start, the Mate X’s limited release, and all three phones’ ultra-premium price, one might dismiss foldable phones as impractical toys for gadget lovers with more money than sense. Yet, the wave of foldable device announcements, rumors, and patent filings from companies like Xiaomi, TCL, LG, Lenovo, Apple, and Google demonstrate a broader commitment to the folding-screen form factor. 2019 wasn’t the year foldable devices replaced the phone/laptop combo most knowledge workers rely on, but it was the year we got our first real look at our foldable future.
China: Supply chain politics
Despite a very mild cooling of trade tensions at the end of 2019 between China and the United States, the conflict has already left a lasting legacy in the form of an increasingly bifurcated world.
Bans on Huawei have existed in Australia since 2012, but this year the FCC is joined the club and started making up for lost time. While on the other side of the coin, Huawei is now able to create device without any US components.
There have also been very real world manifestations of the trade war in 2019, as the legal tangle and house arrest involving Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou has rolled on throughout the year, and two Canadians remain in a Chinese detention centre in retaliation.
In the midst of the Hong Kong protests at the end of the year, Apple rolled over and took a deliberate decision to not increase the safety of its users in the city.
Doing business in China and accommodating Beijing as always been a thorny issue as companies long to tap its billion-plus market, but in 2019, the situation was even thornier and shows few signs of easing anytime soon.
Quantum computing hype builds
This year saw plenty of posturing and dramatic announcements in the quantum computing space which, if nothing else, means this area of emerging technology finally catching up with the levels of hype seen in the broader tech world. IBM was first off the blocks, making a splash at CES with an integrated system for quantum computing, following this later in the year with a 53-qubit quantum computer along with a new quantum computing center in New York State which it said will house 14 quantum computers. But it was Google grabbed most of the attention with its claim to have achieved ‘quantum supremacy’ by using its quantum computer to solve a problem that would be effectively impossible for a classical computer to figure out. This year also saw some early enterprise uses of quantum computing – most notably by Volkswagen and D-Wave to optimise routes for buses in a project in Lisbon. Quantum computing is likely to be delivered as a cloud computing service, at least at first, and Microsoft has also made its enthusiasm clear, as has AWS. It’s still early, early days for quantum computing but the hype battle will be sure to continue.
Bill Detwiler, Chris Duckett, and Steve Ranger contributed to this report.
ZDNET’S MONDAY MORNING OPENER
The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet’s global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.