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Thu 1 Feb 2018 11:20 PM

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The future of content in the Middle East

Mark Weeks, MD of EMEA of Akamai Technologies, looks at how technology will be enhancing our consumption

The future of content in the Middle East

In technology, everyone always wants to be one step ahead so, as soon as the holiday decorations go up in the shops, we’re already thinking about next year. But what’s 2018 got in store for us? 

I’ll give you a clue: it’s not going to be a quiet year.

Technological leaps ahead, major sporting events and an evolution in the way that we keep ourselves entertained mean that 2018 is going to be a big year for the internet. Here are my big four topics that I think are going to impact the web in the year ahead.

1. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality will have more real-world deployments by the end of the year
Retail outlets are already experimenting with embedding VR experiences into their sales strategies. Want to see what that new sofa would look like in your living room?  Want to feel what it’s like to drive a new car without schlepping to a showroom?

These retail experiences are starting to appear across the region. But great VR can be ruined by poor connectivity, so optimising data transfer is becoming absolutely key to turning VR into sales.

In 2016, Royal London Hospital surgeon Dr Shafi Ahmed conducted the first surgical operation to be live streamed in VR and, today, the technology is being used more and more to train new surgeons.  Many people now predict a coming together of VR and robot-assisted surgery to allow remote medical specialists to treat patients from afar. Imagine, then, the guaranteed connectivity that might be required.  For now, the focus is more likely to be in less critical applications than medicine, but the learnings in 2018 will make the future possible.

2. Carriers will have to resolve the challenge of how to serve TV-like experiences to mobile customers
When was the last time you heard a smartphone manufacturer boast about voice capabilities? Now compare that to the number of times they celebrate their video picture quality. But, as anyone who’s already invested in a 4K TV will tell you, quality is all about the connectivity.

Mobile operators are realising, however, that customers no longer forgive poor-quality as a trade-off for mobility so there is increasing pressure to deliver TV-like experiences on smartphones and tablets.

With the football in Russia in the summer taking place in cities one to two hours behind or one hour ahead of the UAE, it’s reasonable to expect heavy streaming on the commute home. 5G will undoubtedly have a huge part to play in moving things forward but, with full-scale rollouts not expected until 2020, operators will need to look for other ways to improve quality in the meantime.

Weeks believes fifth generation mobile networks (5G) will have a vital role to play in the near future

3. The World Cup in Russia will drive the communications industry forward on key issues in Over The Top (OTT) live streaming
If you’ve ever tried to access video data while you’re travelling for work or on holiday, you’ll know that it’s not always easy to stream across borders. And if you’ve ever tried to work out who has the legitimate rights for you to access international sporting events then you’ll know how easy it is to pay over the odds for terrible picture quality – and find yourself breaking the law to boot.

We expect the football showpiece in Russia this year to bring, by necessity, these issues to a head. Organisations will have to resolve challenges around international connectivity and data sovereignty in order to drive ROI from their investments in the tournament.

Similarly, with rights costs at a premium, broadcasters are already working hard to shape the way that streaming is protected globally. Expect to see innovations here that you might not have considered; such as technology that identifies pirate streams of rights-protected material and forcibly inserts ads on behalf of the owner.

4. The launch of the HomePod will add to the Echo/GoogleHome phenomenon, driving up audio streaming across EMEA
Up to 75 percent of homes will have some kind of smart speaker by 2020. They’re already having a big impact on how we listen to music – 90 percent of owners use smart speakers to listen to music and 39 percent of them bought their new devices to replace a stereo.

The upshot? Music and radio that was once broadcast over the FM airwaves is increasingly being transferred to streaming traffic.

As entertainment streaming continues to grow, content owners and service providers will need to think carefully about delivery platforms and distribution methods to ensure that viewers and listeners have great experiences that their infrastructures can support.

The internet today would be virtually unrecognisable to the early pioneers of the world wide web but, every year, there are more developments and every year is the most exciting year so far. One thing’s for certain, 2018 won’t be boring!

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