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My IoT predictions for 2021: Smarter tech will make better business

By ÅsaTamsons, Head of Business Area Technologies & New Businesses, Ericsson

Find out what IoT trends we will see more of in 2021. Among the IoT predictions ranging from digital healthcare, remote learning, connected manufacturing, and micro-mobility to sustainability, the common denominator is the overall accelerated adoption of wireless technologies.

With 2020, the world will never be the same. Nevertheless, I am eager to kick-start an exciting new year. If 2020 was the year to mitigate and manage the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is the year when “the new normal” becomes a cliché. What is evident is that the pandemic has disrupted daily routines and accelerated the adoption of new technologies, enabling us to work remotely, study from home, and maintain social distance. Many of those trends will continue into 2021, and there are strong implications for the Internet of Things (IoT).  

IoT and connectivity have certainly helped keep us closer on a personal level while we’ve all been physically apart. The pandemic has nudged businesses to push forward with IoT adoption perhaps faster than they would have liked. To unleash the full value of IoT, secure, wireless connectivity is required.   

Here are my IoT predictions for 2021: 

  1. Transition to digital healthcare increases and pop up locations for testing and vaccines become more accessible – and pave the way for a new standard for health care services 
  2. Remote teaching and learning open the doors to new digital experiences and shared resources – but also help democratize the access to knowledge  
  3. Manufacturers and logistics become even smarter, and digital twins offer performance optimization and savings – with growing adoption and broader application 
  4. Micro-mobility solutions transform our mode of transportation in urban environments 
  5. The pandemic may have overshadowed sustainability, but it is the top challenge we have to jointly tackle – becoming the new standard for winning innovation and business  

The upsurge in digital healthcarefor patients and caregivers

5G and IoT have enabled the possibility for remote or robot-led surgeries. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic has given new urgency to the need to limit contact between doctors and patients.   

Those techniques have recently gone from theory to reality. In October 2020, two nine-month-old conjoined twins were successfully separated by doctors at UC Davis’s Children’s Hospital. The two young girls were joined at the head, creating a problem for surgeons because of the complicated network of blood vessels in the head. To map it all out, the doctors used Magic Leap’s mixed reality goggles to plot out what would need to be detangled before setting foot in the operating room – lowering the risk and increasing the chances for a successful surgery.  

Not all the IoT’s impact on healthcare will be in the surgical theater. Better monitoring technology like wearables to track body temperature and heart rate can help people do more at home, reduce the need for doctor visits, and save costs. With the help of connected sensors, regional hospitals can track assets such as hospital beds, ventilators, lifesaving machines and decrease spending time on locating equipment. With 5G and consistent high-speed connectivity, high-quality video virtual check-ups can deliver quality and at scale. 

Pop up COVID-19 test and vaccine locations will also be a focal point for 2021. Offering rapid response solutions with secure wireless connectivity will allow emergency and medical professionals to focus on patients and provide services and tools in new and unexpected venues. 

Remote learning – it can’t be all virtual but can open new doors

Education is one of the sectors most disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are some things about the in-person educational experience that are difficult to replicate with even the best remote technology. Education’s social aspect is not fully transmitted through a screen, but teachers have been nimble and creative. Educators have adopted new tools at first out of necessity and a need to engage remote students. But there’s no reason these trends can’t continue even as the pandemic fades. 5G and IoT technologies can help enable new experiences, like virtual field trips. A virtual tour of a museum won’t be the same as visiting in person, but it can be more engaging and memorable than reading about it in a book.  

IoT can help bridge the digital divide by effectively sharing resources and teachers. In rural areas, students can potentially learn from a calculus teacher from another school. Better IoT applications will make it easier for teachers to virtually “visit” the classroom and interact with students. We will see an increase in digital and virtual teaching and learning methods. 

Smarter manufacturing and supply chains

Rethinking and updating manufacturing, operations, and supply chains will be accelerated even more during 2021. A need to manufacture and produce locally has been driving advances in logistics efficiency. The pandemic has led to the proliferation of smart devices in manufacturing environments. This will continue, even as the virus comes under control as vaccines are distributed. Businesses realize that by incorporating IoT applications into the factory floor, the business and economic benefits quickly materialize. For example, infrared cameras on a production line could replace inspectors, freeing up staff for other duties. A robotic crawler in the heating, ventilation, and air condition system can monitor conditions in a way that’s impossible for a human.   

2021 will be the year of digital twins and 5G. Twinning is when you collect data on a process or machinery to create a predictive model, a digital “twin,” that allows better tracking of wear and tear and maintenance needs. At the end of the day, these operational efficiencies save costs. 

One company taking full advantage of what digital twins and XR offers is Taylor Construction in Australia. With 5G, the construction workers, architects, and production teams have secure high-speed connectivity and low latency to apply holographic building visualization, 360-degree safety scanning, smart sensors on structures, and onsite real-time digital design blueprints. 

Tracking micro-mobility is changing the way we move in cities

As most of us are working from home, our mobility is limited to the proximity of our local community. With changing patterns in using cars and public transportation, other modes of transportation, including electric scooters or electric bikes, become more prevalent.  With e-scooter sharing schemes available in more than 100 cities, across at least 20 countries, from Chile to South Korea to New Zealand, they all have to be connected. IoT is the foundation for connecting and coordinating these scooters and provides connectivity for micro-mobility companies to provide these services.  

Sustainability carries into 2021

In 2020, sustainability was overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, it is a prerequisite for our future. Digital technologies play a pivotal role in helping the global community reduce greenhouse emissions and could enable one third of the 50% global emission reduction needed by 2030, as highlighted in the latest Exponential Roadmap report. As a technology leader, Ericsson has played an active role in setting a precedent and has reduced its emissions by 50%. Digital technologies and IoT enable access to basic human needs like clean water and food. 

According to the United Nations, 3 in 10 people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. Real-time data monitoring and smart systems can ensure water quality. One company addressing the need for clean water is Wayout. Wayout has made it possible for micro-factories to locally produce clean, filtered water with a minimal eco-footprint. Powered by solar panels, the micro-factories offer an advanced water purification system. Smart agriculture is another example of how we can improve our resource efficiency for food production. Stanley Black & Decker has initiated a smart connect water irrigation system for local farmers in India. With intelligent and connected irrigation, the farmers can better manage groundwater resources and leverage the seasons to produce up to 3 crops a year, leading to additional yield and income.   

Smoothing out the bumps

As we proceed with digital transformation on a broader scale, and with increasing speed, there will be bumps in the road. As more devices are incorporated into businesses, standardization and connectivity become increasingly important.  

If we can address those challenges, we can take a significant leap forward in IoT in 2021, with 5G as an innovation platform and sustainability grounded in our business. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of these technologies out of necessity. But they will be with us moving forward as connectivity becomes even more critical to the way we live, learn, and work. And smarter technology will be better and help liberate business. 

Read more about how IoT can transform enterprises

ÅsaTamsons, Head of Business Area Technologies & New Businesses, Ericsson
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Ericsson recognized for COVID-19 response leadership by Global Business Alliance

The Global Business Alliance (GBA) recognized Ericsson for its innovative contribution to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, GBA members have utilized their expertise, resources and dedicated employees to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s amazing about Ericsson’s story is how they mobilized their highly-skilled workforce to share their technical expertise in deep learning to help researchers better understand this disease,” said Nancy McLernon, president and CEO of the Global Business Alliance.

At the onset of the pandemic in the U.S., more than 350 Ericsson employees came together virtually as a volunteer team, leveraging automation and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to create tools to accurately utilize the ever-growing set of academic papers published on the COVID-19 virus. In just 27 days, the team completed and submitted a solution for all nine tasks included within the federal government’s COVID-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge (CORD-19), which aimed to develop AI tools to help the medical research community address urgent questions posed by the pandemic.

“Ericsson employees have always been eager to jump in and help, leveraging our technology for good. It’s truly part of our culture where our employees embrace the responsibility to give back through selfless volunteering,” said Niklas Heuveldop, President and Head of Ericsson North America. “This was a very different challenge and a true testament to the resourcefulness and dedication of our team across the world, mobilizing quickly to help contribute to a solution for this global pandemic. Thank you Global Business Alliance for supporting international companies in the United States, and recognizing Ericsson for this award.”

Ericsson’s effort produced significant results in the form of research tools that enable medical professionals, public health officials and other leaders to synthesize the increasing volume of medical research on COVID-19 and related viruses that now consists of over 200,000 articles.

The Awards, which were presented by GBA in a virtual event streamed earlier, showcase the significant contributions that international companies make to local U.S. communities. Many international companies offer their employees the opportunity to volunteer and help direct the company’s corporate social responsibility efforts.

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Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm outlines COVID 19 consequences on our online lives, and why we cannot go back to pre-pandemic habits

Through Covid-19, connectivity has become an even bigger part of critical infrastructure, helping people in an unprecedented way to work, study and socialize online. Looking forward, governments need to do more to harness the potential of 5G if we’re both to emerge stronger from the pandemic and tackle greater challenges such as climate change.

These are two of my takeaways from the World Economic Forum’s three-part 5G Outlook Series, the final installment of which was recently published and to which Ericsson, as part of a multi-stakeholder working group, contributed.

Shifting behaviors

A year on from its onset, many of the global behavioral changes stemming from Covid-19 are clear, not least the move from offline to online domains. Last year, we could see that consumers’ use of fixed broadband increased by an average of two and half hours per day, and on mobile by one hour.

In its first 5G Outlook Series report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlighted several activities behind that increased usage: in healthcare, a 490 percent increase in telemedicine urgent care visits; in socialization a 75 percent increase in online gaming; and in retail, online transactions were up 74 percent globally. In the world of work, Ericsson’s Mobility Report showed 60 percent of white-collar workers increased their usage of video calls.

Networks passed the stress test

Despite the sudden and unprecedented changes in traffic patterns and demand, the networks performed well with operators generally providing enough network performance. This strong performance was reflected in users’ perceptions, with 83 percent claiming ICT helped them a lot, in one way or another, to cope with lockdown.

My first key takeaway from the WEF reports is that through Covid-19, connectivity became an even bigger part of critical infrastructure, helping people in an unprecedented way to work, study and socialize online. Without the investments made in 4G and 5G, telemedicine, video calls, gaming – none of these uses could have been delivered to the extent seen through the pandemic.

No going back to the pre-pandemic status quo

With vaccines rolling out and an end to the pandemic in sight, there is a risk that society will seek to return to pre-pandemic routines and habits. It is obvious the world cannot move forward by returning to a pre-pandemic status quo.

If we are to emerge strongly from Covid-19 and tackle greater challenges, such as climate change, then not only do we need to continue the digital evolution, but we need to accelerate it with 5G at the forefront.

5G at the forefront of digital evolution

With attributes such as high speed and low latency, and as an enabler of other technologies such as the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, 5G is designed to be a platform upon which enterprises can take forward efficient, low-cost, low emission uses.

This can be seen in factory settings, for example, where 5G uses gather in the form of automated heating, ventilation, air conditioning, light control and building management. Many of these 5G uses, the economic and environmental benefits derived from them, are explored in Ericsson’s 5G Smart Factory.

In a similar vein within agriculture, WEF highlights, there are several 5G use cases whereby the use of sensors and other connected devices allow farmers to produce more output whilst consuming fewer scarce natural resources, such as water.

One such example offered is Agroscope, a center for agricultural research in Switzerland. The center has deployed real-time sensors that measure soil moisture, crop growth, weather data and animal movements. These sensors have allowed farmers to decrease the amount of nitrogen fertilizer use by roughly 10 percent, without any corresponding loss in crop yield.

Broadband and 5G, as the European Commission makes clear, lay the foundation for the green and digital transformation of the economy, regardless of whether we talk about transport and energy, healthcare and education, or manufacturing and agriculture.

Switzerland in focus

Staying with Switzerland, few countries have been as quick to see the potential in 5G and commit. In 2019, Swisscom switched on the first European commercial 5G network, and today 90 percent of the population is covered by 5G.

Now they will see benefits in economic competitiveness with enterprises gaining first-mover advantages in educational attainment with online learning strengthened through VR, and they will see benefits environmentally through reduced emissions.

5G is scalable, and if other countries were to use Switzerland as a template, the global benefits would be enormous.

World in focus

Looking at a global scale, environmentally, digital technology can accelerate the reduction of global emissions by up to 15 percent by 2030, while being responsible for only 1.4 percent of global emissions.

Whilst economically, ‘industry analysts have suggested 5G will add USD3.8 trillion of gross output by 2035, supporting 22.8 million new jobs’.

With rewards, however, come risks. One such risk is the threat of exacerbated inequality, through varied adoption of digital technology. For example, by the end of 2026, Ericsson forecasts 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions globally. In North America, 80 percent of its subscriptions are expected to be 5G, whilst in sub-Saharan Africa the forecast is only 5 percent.

Given that, by 2030, we forecast that two-thirds of the world’s workforces will depend on 5G connectivity, it is critical that we work towards closing the digital skills divide and promote an agenda which ensures digital inclusion, a point echoed in the report series.

Governments as 5G catalysts

Governments have a long way to go in helping rollout 5G, if we want to use it to emerge strongly from Covid-19, harness its economic and environmental opportunities, whilst mitigating inequality. This is my second key takeaway from the 5G Outlook Series and I would echo WEF ‘s conclusion from their final report: ‘where governments can work with the communications industry to defray network roll-out costs, nations are more likely to see widespread 5G benefits across the economy sooner. Democratizing 5G in this manner is a significant way of avoiding a 5G-driven digital divide.’

More concretely, instead of focusing on capturing limited spectrum fees and dragging out rollouts, governments need to see themselves as investment catalysts. They need to focus on the bigger economic and environmental benefits which come from spectrum being released quickly, supply maximized and getting enterprises up and running on 5G.

The spectrum, which is the system that carries data from user equipment to cellular base stations to the data’s endpoint, also needs to be assigned in a manner that incentivizes wide and rapid deployment to ensure equitable access. Furthermore, barriers such as permitting delays, sighting rules, harmonizing radio frequency exposure values need to go. Doing this will help accelerate the uptake of 5G.

In conclusion, Covid-19 demonstrated the enormous value of our digital infrastructure. If society is to emerge stronger from the pandemic and tackle greater challenges, then governments need to act more as catalysts and unleash the potential of 5G.

Ericsson is a strategic partner to the World Economic Forum and contributor to its 5G Accelerator Program which aims to build better connected, more resilient societies to respond to and recover from Covid-19. Their report series, 5G Outlook, which is part of the Program, can be accessed here.


This blog post originally appeared on WEF Agenda.


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