From 5G to blockchain – four technology trends to watch

14 Feb 2019

From 5G to blockchain - Four tech trends to watch

Lyndon Subroyen

head of Investec Digital

Always on. Always connected. The world of tech seems to be ever-evolving and its applications are vast and varied. It’s a complex environment, so here are four trends you need to know about this year. 

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1.    5G


Ten years after mobile carriers launched 4G, they are now experimenting with 5G technology. As the name suggests, fifth-generation wireless, or 5G, is the latest iteration of cellular technology, but it is expected to supplement rather than replace today’s 4G networks

Using a high frequency spectrum, small cell antennas, and AI-enabled software, it is engineered to radically improve the speed, bandwidth, capacity and reliability of wireless networks. Its low communication latency (the time it takes to pass a message from sender to receiver) could help networks enhance tasks demanding a quick response, such as factory robots, self-driving cars and more.


5G technology will empower a wide range of future industries from retail, education, transportation, and entertainment to healthcare. For financial services, it could mean very efficient client authentication and more secure and faster online transactions.



5G technology will empower a wide range of future industries from retail, education, transportation, and entertainment to healthcare.
2.    AR, VR and MR


Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) were once thought to only have applications in gaming.


VR immerses users in a fully artificial digital environment while AR overlays virtual objects on the real-world environment. MR seamlessly integrates the real and virtual worlds, allowing people to move within and interact with both simultaneously.


5G will enable these technologies to scale up and become a useful tool in industries such as manufacturing and engineering, architecture, healthcare, aviation, and many others. As it enables simulation-based learning, remote working, and functional mock-ups it can, for example, be used to train medical students, repair and maintain complex equipment, do interior design, assist with architecture and construction, conduct virtual tours and enhance classroom education.

3.    Blockchain and cryptocurrencies

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies are here to stay but are not widely understood.


Simply put, blockchain is an internet protocol that allows a network of computers to store data or information of users without relying on a centralised database (such as those of a tech company, or a bank, etc). In essence, it allows value transfers over the internet without the need of banks or payment processors to facilitate such a transfer.


There are two general categories of blockchain technology - public and private blockchains. Public blockchains are powered and secured by cryptocurrencies, so these are public, openly accessible and decentralised. It allows web developers to build applications that place user data control and privacy first, as opposed to signing over rights of that data to technology giants. A private blockchain is secured by traditional information and cybersecurity models. These are private, closed and centralised and more suitable to the business model of centralised incumbents.


Blockchains can be used for payment processing and money transfers, retail loyalty rewards programmes, Digital IDs or to monitor supply chains, etc.


It’s more helpful to think of cryptocurrencies as new currencies that can co-exist alongside traditional currencies


The role of blockchain in cryptocurrencies


In the same way that the rand is not an accepted medium of exchange in the USA, or vice versa, neither the rand or dollar are an accepted medium of exchange in blockchain protocols such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. For example, if you use Ethereum blockchain to register a real estate title deed, you have to pay the transaction fees in its currency, in this case, ether.


A cryptocurrency also incentivises an army of computers to secure the network by disincentivising denial of service (DDoS) attacks, meaning it is critical to keep the technology secure from malicious attacks. 


With this context, it is more helpful to think of cryptocurrencies as new currencies that can co-exist alongside traditional currencies. Together, these currencies form part of an emerging technology ecosystem that leads to a more resilient and reliable financial system and web architecture that puts user control and privacy at its centre.


READ MORE: Blockchain - the invisible engine of trust

4.    Artificial intelligence (AI)

Stephen Hawking said, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” AI was everywhere in 2018 and don’t expect the hype to die down.


AI is so interwoven into our lives now, to the point that most people don't give it a second thought.

AI is an effort to create computers capable of intelligent behaviour and includes machine learning and deep learning. Machine learning means enabling machines to learn by itself using the data provided. Deep learning is the next evolution of machine learning and is roughly inspired by the information processing patterns found in the human brain. Just like we use our brains to identify patterns and classify various types of information, deep learning algorithms can be taught to accomplish the same tasks for machines.


AI is so interwoven into our lives now, to the point that most people don't give it a second thought. We use our smartphones, search using Google, navigate with Google Maps, shop on Amazon, watch Netflix, interact with AI assistants like Siri, Alexa, and chatbots…


Future AI applications are vast – from autonomous vehicles and robotics, for example in health care, to space exploration, marketing, and customer service, and so much more. 


READ MORE: Understanding the AI revolution


Everything is getting smarter – are you?


Technology will continue to creep in every aspect of our everyday lives. At home, we use smart devices like thermostats, voice-controlled smart speakers and streaming services. Wearable technology like smartwatches can sync with all your devices and also monitor sleep, physical activity and more. You might pay for your next home by Bitcoin. Electric and autonomous cars could be the norm soon.


Your devices are getting smarter, but are you? Before getting the latest gadgets, make sure you understand it fully, including the benefits and risks, and selectively use it in ways that will enhance your life and lifestyle. 

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