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Thu 13 Jun 2019 02:48 PM

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Opinion: how 5G could drive wearable technology growth

With total shipments of wearable devices expected to reach 453.19 million units by 2022, we explore the potential of smart wearable devices to transform the workplace

Opinion: how 5G could drive wearable technology growth
Evolvng trend: Worldwide revenue in the wearable technology segment is expected to reach $14.53bn this year

Could virtual reality headsets enhance IT support services for remote employees? What if workers could navigate the office with augmented reality maps? How might IT deliver more personalised mobile experiences with smartwatch data or in-ear virtual assistants?

This could be the future of work with wearable technology: smartwatches, smart glasses, headsets, smart headphones and other internet-enabled devices worn on the body. As adoption grows and the technology matures, IT leaders consider ways wearables will transform the employee experience.

Work improves

One of the biggest benefits of wearables is the productivity that’s gained. Users initially adopted wearables for health, fitness and entertainment, but both employees and employers start to see the value of wearables for work, such as:

  • Constant connectivity:  Many workers use personal smartwatches to receive hands-free email and meeting notifications. This makes it easy for workers to stay on top of updates and prioritise tasks while they’re away from the desk.
  • Accelerated access:  Smartwatches and other wearables can provide workers with password-free, instant access to work resources. The always-on nature of wearables (e.g. always online and always on the body) likens the devices to a personal key that could unlock anything, from printers to laptops. Imagine it’s 8 o’clock in the morning, and you reach your office and you can’t get through the doors because you forgot your security pass at home. Now, imagine if the same thing were done with your smartwatch, essentially authenticating you to an electronic badge reader, and you breeze right through.
  • Quick training:  Augmented reality (AR) displays overlay steps, diagrams and other digital instructions onto real-world objects so employees can efficiently learn complex tasks. It’s not hard to imagine office workers using an AR headset to operate new equipment or to share 3D presentations with co-workers.

Wearable devices are only as valuable as the data transmitted to and from these devices

These are just a few basic examples of wearables for knowledge workers. Leading companies already reimagine workflows with wearables in much bigger ways to gain a competitive edge.

An ecosystem evolves

The introduction and advancement of surrounding technologies makes the future of wearables at work even more promising. Wearable devices are only as valuable as the data transmitted to and from these devices. Emerging technologies will increase the quantity, quality and value of this data. For example, edge computing could enable the data collected on wearables to be processed at the device.

5G networks could quickly transfer massive amounts of this data back to the cloud, where machine learning applications could return intelligent insights or automatically take data-driven actions. These innovations will dramatically improve the performance and usefulness of wearable devices and applications in the workplace.

Adoption grows

During the last decade, tech enthusiasts expected wearables to be the next big thing at work. Initially, smart glasses never caught on with workers or consumers. Progressive manufacturers and healthcare organisations experimented with wearables for engineers and patients, but the devices remained largely absent in the typical enterprise.

Demand grew slowly. A report from global research and advisory experts Gartner this year forecast that worldwide shipments of wearable devices will reach 225 million in 2019, an increase of 25.8 percent from 2018. In three years, Gartner predicts total shipments will be more than double, growing from 140.82 million units to 453.19 million units.

Manufacturers, retailers and healthcare providers were ahead of the curve when it comes to piloting and implementing wearable technology at work

And It’s not a fad. Enterprise wearables could exceed £45bn ($56.9bn) by 2022.

According to Gartner, approximately a third of total estimated purchases in 2019 (225.12 million units) will be smartwatches (74.09 million units). Gartner also predicts that by 2022, ear-worn devices will account for more than 30 percent of all shipped wearables, as their capabilities expand beyond communication and entertainment.

Mobility transforms

Manufacturers, retailers and healthcare providers were ahead of the curve when it comes to piloting and implementing wearable technology at work.

Now, companies and institutions in the education sector are starting to explore how they can incorporate wearables into student and employee experiences.

For example, Robert Irving, Director of IT, University of Sharjah, is excited about how the university can integrate wearable technology into its administration systems. That would open up possibilities such as prompting students about upcoming assignment deadlines or telling them where their next lecture is located. He also highlights the health and fitness data collection capability of the devices, and how this could be used to help students better understand when the optimum time is for each individual to study.

The workplace of the future is part human and part machine. Smart things (smart printers and smart TVs), autonomous things (robots and autonomous vehicles), proximity-based sensors, virtual assistants and other technologies will work in concert to augment and enhance the employee experience. As IT plugs workers’ wearables into these connected workspaces, new applications and refined workflows will emerge.

Of course, all this information – enterprise data on smartwatches, confidential communications on hearables, intellectual property on the display of smart glasses – must be managed and secured. Now in its mature stages, digital workspace technology enables enterprise IT to secure access to work resources across these new form factors and varied operating systems. Any device that employees use to access company apps and data must be secured to prevent data leaks or hacks. Wearable technology should be managed and secured, alongside mobile phones and desktops.

Shankar Iyer, senior vice president and general manager of VMware End-User Computing

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