What should we watch out for in mobile in 2016?

The mobile communications sector is certainly an eventful one, with enough twists and turns -- and surprise outcomes -- to keep those of us that study and report on this industry reasonably well entertained.

This year has been no exception -- and indeed we will be publishing our review of 2015 next week with a selection of what we think have been among the most interesting trends of the year. What is perhaps even more important is to look ahead at what will be the leading trends in the year to come.

It's not easy to predict what might lie ahead, and indeed it can at times be foolhardy to do so! But there's little doubt that some of the significant developments this year will continue to be the ones to watch in 2016.

Take NFV and SDN, for example. Ongoing efforts to virtualise networks are expected to have a profound effect on mobile operators as they move towards 5G. As noted by Mikko Disini, director of product marketing at software specialist Citrix, there has been much discussion around the transition to NFV in 2015, and "in 2016 we'll see some operators at the bleeding edge that have completed several [proof of concepts] move into the detailed planning stage and start issuing RFPs for multi-year deployments."

5G, of course, will only gain in momentum, but the concern here is to ensure that we don't get led astray by operators claiming to have launched 5G networks when in fact they are still very much in the 4G world.

Only this week, the Norwegian unit of TeliaSonera demonstrated what 4G is capable of by claiming it had reached speeds of 1 Gbps on a 4G network. Refreshingly, the company has not tried to claim this is early 5G, but correctly described it as based on LTE Advanced Pro technology -- which is nonetheless regarded as an important step towards 5G.

Other important acronyms to keep tabs on this year include LAA and LTE-U -- or the efforts by operators to deploy LTE in unlicensed as well as licensed spectrum. This has certainly become an issue for the Wi-Fi world, which fears the impact such technology could have on unlicensed spectrum typically used for Wi-Fi services.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will of course remain a high-profile topic, although there is a great deal of work to be done here to determine exactly what this will really mean for us all. Many forecasts have been made on future numbers of connected devices, the investments that will be made, the differences that the IoT will have on businesses and consumers, and the roles that different wireless networks will play, but manifold challenges still lie ahead in this area.

Next year will certainly be another roller coaster ride for the mobile sector.--Anne

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