Technology leaders and early adopters who usually descend upon Las Vegas this month have traded their comfy walking shoes for slippers. That’s because this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, also known as CES, went completely virtual! Like countless other conferences and events, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the trade show to take a new digital approach to show off the latest tech and share the trends we should expect to see in the coming year. But despite that challenge, the new format drove home a message many experts repeated over and over; we are living through a moment in history that is radically transforming the role technology plays in our daily life.
“I believe tech will help solve more fundamental human problems in the next two decades than in the past two centuries,” said Consumer Technology Association (CTA) President & CEO, Gary Shapiro, in a conversation with Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. In response to Shapiro, Nadella remarked, “There’s real structural change, Gary, that I think is going to be driven because of the broad adoption of digital technology in our lives and in our workplaces.” (CTA hosts CES each year and Microsoft is CES’s technology partner in 2021.) And, as millions of Americans experienced in 2020, a broadband connection is the key to unlocking the benefits and possibilities that many of these innovative technologies hold.
So what innovations and tech trends should you be watching out for in 2021? CTA Vice President of Research Steve Koenig and CTA Director of Research, Lesley Rorhbaugh, called attention to a few areas that are on Beyond’s radar:
1. Digital Health
COVID-19, to say the least, has put a new focus on how we think about health and wellness. A CTA industry forecast (U.S. Consumer Technology Five Year Industry Forecast, 2019-2024, January 2021) saw connected health monitoring devices reach $623 million in spending in 2020, a whopping 73% increase over 2019. CTA predicts that spending in this area will reach $845 million in 2021—an increase of 34% over 2020. More consumers want to take charge of their own health and they will do so by relying on connected technologies that track things like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and more.
AI is also playing a larger role in driving the diagnosis of a patient. And of course, remote tools are allowing for seamless collaboration in hospitals by bringing in virtual and augmented reality elements that mimic the in-person working experiences of doctors and healthcare professionals as much as possible.
The Beyond community is invested in making sure all Americans have the high-speed internet connections they need to take advantage of these digital health technologies, especially those in hard to reach rural communities who have limited access to in-person healthcare options.
2. Digital Transformation
Large and small businesses alike were majorly impacted by the pandemic with the shutting down of in-person experiences. As a result, many businesses pivoted to online platforms. For example, in the area of fitness, a CTA report (COVID-19 Impact on Technology Innovation: U.S. & Europe, September 2020) found that digital fitness increased by 30-35% (from pre-COVID levels) in the U.S. last year as consumers purchased online fitness classes more than ever before when gyms closed. Then in education, schools and colleges are using group meeting platforms to hold lectures and discussions. Meanwhile, in the legal sector, court proceedings and hearings have also moved to digital platforms. These online platforms continue to evolve with consumer demands and depending on each sector’s needs.
This trend echoes what we heard from business owners in the Beyond community. Danielle and Craig Williams who own a gym in Virginia and Lorie Sadler, who founded a small marketing firm in Colorado, all began using new online technologies to reach customers last year – with great success!
Robots are being used as triage in the healthcare industry to enable remote clinical care and to minimize the exposure of frontline workers to viruses as much as possible. They are also performing close-contact tasks such as cleaning and sanitizing workplaces, or taking temperature checks for employees of a business. In addition, they continue to play a role in the delivery of products to consumers and in retail inventory stocking. Many of these uses require broadband connectivity to track and monitor the information being processed by the robot.
These technologies rely on a strong, reliable internet connection to do what they do best. Robotics will doubtless contribute to the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and we know that means we’ll need more spectrum for hundreds of new devices to connect to Wi-Fi as well. Thankfully, Wi-Fi had a big win last year (in part because of the dedication of our Beyond community members) and the spectrum gains will help Robotics achieve their potential.
4. Smart Cities
Smart cities promise to use connectivity and data to solve problems facing municipalities, and to fuel growth in communities big and small around the world. Many internet service providers (ISPs) have already partnered with multiple cities across the country to come up with innovative digital solutions that will benefit the way citizens live and work, and how local governments approach important issues, for example public health conditions in communities. Key technologies within these smart cities that are expected to take off this year include networked sensors that monitor and track temperature and air pollution. Smart kiosks and data dashboards, which provide the public with key alerts and navigation assistance, are also technologies to expect to see start popping up around the country. Contact tracing is another Smart City technology that will continue to grow as cities look for ways to avoid transmission of viruses and other conditions.
Beyond is looking closely at how Smart Cities evolve and the ways in which they can transform how we live. There’s no question that our community members will be involved in shaping these connected cities of the future.
5. Connected Education
Another area expected to be transformed is, perhaps unsurprisingly, connected education. As the pandemic continues, students all over the country are having to either go all virtual or supplement much of their instruction time with digital alternatives. New and updated digital platforms are expected in the coming year to help students and teachers get the most out of virtual classrooms, and to take the lessons learned during the pandemic to advance the capabilities of distance learning.
Distance learning and connected education technologies are only as successful as the students who use them, however, which is why we’re committed to getting every student in America connected to high-speed internet. The Beyond community is encouraged to see the good work being done to move the needle, especially a series of partnerships between ISPs and school districts in low-income communities across the country.
COVID-19 surges on, but the silver lining to the pandemic is that the shutdown of in-person experiences have brought on new waves of both digital transformation and adoption. We recognize that broadband connections will continue to be the magic behind these transformations. The Beyond community is excited to continue our work, pushing for policies that allow broadband to deliver on its promises and lead America into a new era of possibilities.