By Radwan Moussalli
The world of technology has taken great strides across the Middle East this year, with several sectors boosting strategies, spending and innovations in order to bring a glimpse of the future today.
The region has been revving up its charge into more high-tech services. At the recent Gitex Technology Week, the region’s largest technology show, several entities flaunted their latest innovations, such as the ‘Hoverbike’ from Dubai Police, a Russian-made flying motorbike; the Volocopter, a German-designed pilotless flying taxi expected to be in service by the end of 2017; and a huge number of improved smart services.
Across the globe, we are moving from being a digital economy to a hyper digital one. And one of the major reasons why this is happening is because of what is commonly termed as the democratisation of technology. New technologies and improved user experiences have empowered those outside of the technical industry to access and use technological products and services.
At an increasing scale, consumers have greater access to use and purchase technologically sophisticated products, as well as to participate meaningfully in the development of these products. Industry innovation and user demand have been associated with more affordable, user-friendly products. This is an ongoing process, beginning with the development of mass production and increasing dramatically as digitisation became commonplace.
What we have seen in 2017
Several trends accelerated this year. Most notable has been artificial intelligence (AI), which has been growing tremendously. Apple (Siri), Google (Google Assistant), Samsung (Bixby) and Amazon (Alexa) have been mainstays for quite some time now, but several local companies have deployed their own versions of AI, such as Emirates NBD and its virtual phone banking assistant, EVA. In fact, the UAE has spear headed the movement globally by laying out its Artificial Intelligence strategy and by also appointing its first minister of state for AI.
And when we speak of AI, the Internet of Things (IoT) also comes into play. Whether it be your everyday devices — smartphones, wearables — to home appliances and vehicles, the potential of IoT seems limitless, providing seamless data transfers without the need of human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. Software.org: the BSA Foundation, in a recent report, says that we would see as many as 50 billion connected devices by 2020. And its worldwide economic gains are pegged to be even larger at $11.1 trillion annually come 2025.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have also made headway. Samsung and HTC, with their Gear VR and Vive, respectively, have been heavily promoting their capabilities. Apple, meanwhile, with its latest iOS 11 operating system for its mobile devices, is also making a push with ARKit. The combined revenue for the VR and AR segments, according to recent research by the International Data Corporation, is expected to hit $162 billion by 2020.
In the telecommunications sector, the preparation for 5G has taken huge strides as well. According to Ericsson’s recent 5G Readiness Survey, operators have boosted preparations for the new standard of mobile communications, with trials being carried out by 78 per cent of those they surveyed, compared to 32 per cent last year.
Twenty-eight per cent, meanwhile, say that they would deploy 5G beginning next year. And according to the new GSMA Report, Middle East operators will be early adopters, among the first in the world, of 5G networks with expectations of 50 million 5G connections across the Mena region by 2025.
Contactless payments have also made way regionally. In April, Samsung Pay was launched for regional users, while Apple Pay was rolled out only this October. While cash is still indeed king in the region, 75 per cent of users still prefer to pay via this method, according to UAE Central Bank figures. The introduction of these two services in 2017 has set a new trend locally and is certain to trigger a wave of more acceptance thanks to its ease of use and proclaimed security.
And let’s not forget the milestones in enterprise security adoption
As technology becomes more complex and ubiquitous, companies are also putting a premium on security. Gartner, in a report issued recently, forecast that spending on information security alone in the Mena region will reach $1.8 billion this year, an 11 per cent increase from 2016. And spending is expected to grow even more as threats grow; the most notable cyber-attack this year among many was the NotPetya virus, which caused massive shutdowns, crippling several enterprises across the globe.
This year’s several large-scale security incidents have served as a reminder for global as well as regional organisations that using outdated methods of protection do not make the cut. Organisations now fully understand that enterprise security cannot rely on blocking and preventing mechanisms. The year 2017 has demonstrated to many the significance of investing in secure networks and predictive tools and services using experienced partners, who can efficiently identify weaknesses, support proactively and potentially prevent issues before they arise.
The Mena region has been quick to adopt key trending technologies, and as we’ve seen in 2017, the latest technological trends — from AI, IoT to 5G and secure enterprise transformation — have kept us alert and eager to see what emerges in the coming year across the region’s quickly evolving, digitally connected landscape.
The writer is the senior vice-president for the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa for Tata Communications.