2022 flew by quickly, and it's that time again to forecast what the new year holds for my focus areas as an ARInsights ARchitect Analyst Power 100-ranked global industry analyst. Networking and security are hotter than ever, especially in 5G and zero trust, so let’s dive into my predictions.
#1: Fixed wireless access achieves terminal velocity; IoT security goes vertical
Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services bring LTE and 5G connectivity from a traditional cellular radio tower to a home or business rather than a smartphone or other mobile device. The point-to-point technology that underpins this form of broadband connectivity has existed for quite some time. Many may recall a service from Clearwire nearly 15 years ago based on an IEEE 802.16m standard dubbed WiMAX. WiMAX was promising, but it never delivered on its promise of being less expensive than cellular or providing the performance needed to make it viable relative to cable.
Today, I consider FWA to be the emerging killer use case for 5G. T-Mobile is leaning into its broad-spectrum footprint to offer FWA to consumers and businesses, and I expect its subscriber growth to continue at an accelerated pace this year. AT&T has provided an enterprise FWA service for some time, and I expect it will aggressively market FWA to the consumer market in 2023 as a complement to its fiber offering. As Verizon builds out its mid-spectrum band assets acquired from the C-band auction, its subscriber base should take off this year as well, given the dramatic improvement that spectrum profile provides from a performance and coverage standpoint.
My first security prediction centers on IoT security in operational technology (OT) environments. Think of OT as the non-carpeted areas of an enterprise—manufacturing shop floors and logistical and distribution centers operated by the likes of Walmart and Amazon. The OT challenge lies in the connectivity of scores of sensors and machines that, in aggregate, create a massive threat surface. As OT environments undergo digital transformation in the form of cellular connectivity, a new approach to security is required. In my opinion, Palo Alto Networks is leading in this regard with its recent announcements tied to prescriptive security solutions for the manufacturing and healthcare verticals. It's a smart and differentiated move, and I believe others will follow the company’s lead this year.
#2: Mobile network slicing becomes a reality; Bad actors target the hybrid workforce
Mobile network slicing is an architecture that allows telecom carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Vodafone and others to use virtualization to create independent networks upon the same physical network infrastructure. One of 5G's many superpowers is that the underlying New Radio standard is inherently more virtualized than any of the generations that came before it. As many 5G networks transition to standalone operation in 2023, marrying 5G core and radio access network (RAN) infrastructure will make slicing a reality. Another driver for slicing's momentum this year is the monetization opportunity. Enterprises will pay for guaranteed levels of latency and bandwidth as part of any digital transformation plans for OT environments, and many consumers will do the same for mobile and cloud gaming.
My second security prediction centers on the work-from-anywhere phenomenon birthed by the Covid pandemic, because the new hybrid workforce presents too ripe a target for bad actors to ignore. I am likely not alone in this assumption. Bad actors will target companies with large populations of remote employees with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and ransomware to extort them. Consequently, enterprises must rethink their approach to security beyond traditional VPN solutions. Zscaler should see a significant upside given its highly scalable and distributed proxy architecture. I have previously written about the company, and this research brief captures my insights.
#3: The Open RAN market consolidates; The zero trust whitewash rolls on
Open RAN touts itself as a panacea for operator capital expenditure given its use of disaggregated, industry standard server platforms and software-defined functionality. Many also believe it can finally domesticate the cellular infrastructure supply chain by introducing a host of new U.S.-based entrants. However, adoption has its challenges. As the RAN is disaggregated, the challenge of integration arises. Furthermore, the gold rush to Open RAN has created a very crowded market. Mavenir seems to have fallen victim, as evidenced by its continued workforce reductions. A consolidation will likely occur in 2023, and a handful of Open RAN players will emerge as winners. I'm placing my bets on Airspan Networks and JMA Wireless.
My third security prediction is that the zero trust industry whitewash will reach its apex this year. This week, a public relations firm pitched me a meeting with a startup launching a zero-trust browser! The definition of zero trust must always embody the core principle that users authenticate to applications versus a flat network. Only a handful of companies deliver on the true promise of zero trust, including Zscaler, Fortinet and Palo Alto Networks. Enterprise CISOs and security operations teams should keep this in mind while evaluating any cybersecurity offering.
I don’t profess to have a crystal ball, but many years in corporate America in various sales, channel and product marketing roles and the last several as an industry analyst afford me a unique perspective. 2023 will culminate in significant advances in networking and security. It should be interesting to see it all unfold.