Ofcom report: Technology Futures

The UK's communications regulator Ofcom has published a new report, Technology Futures, that shines a spotlight on the innovative, emerging technologies that could shape the communications industry in the future.

Following a consultation in 2020, Ofcom has selected a sample of technologies based on the responses it received, as well as discussions the regulator had with thought leaders in both academia and industry. The emerging technology research is an ongoing project for Ofcom: it will continue to identify other important technologies as they emerge and in sectors beyond those considered in this report.

The report itself is in five parts:

  • Immersive communications and applications
  • Mobile and wireless technologies
  • Fixed and optical technologies
  • Broadcasting and media technologies
  • Satellite technologies

Ofcom notes that its role as regulator itself is changing, it has recently expanded to include the regulation of video-sharing platforms, and the imminent regulation of online harms. In parallel to its regulatory scope, Ofcom states the necessity of understanding how the technology underpinning communications sectors is changing, to ensure it can meet its duties and protect consumers. 

For immersive communications and applications, this includes "smart" devices to emerging applications that allow people to project their senses from a distance are underpinned by intelligent and immersive communications between people and technology. Ofcom notes that as we move further into the new world of immersion, it not only expects to see new products and services, but also significant digital transformation in areas such as retail, sport and entertainment, education and training and health.

Mobile and wireless technologies are also developing at pace—driven by the rollout of next generation connectivity like 5G—and Ofcom selects four particular areas it thinks progress will have a major impact in the medium to long term: beyond the traditional wireless communication limits; AI native systems; hybrid topologies; and joint communications and sensing. 

Advances over recent years in the underlying technologies in fixed networks and optical technologies look set to be impacted by complex multi-core and hollow-core fibre deployment techniques. Quantum based techniques will also impact in the near future, as well as denser and more complex integrated optical chips. 

In broadcasting, emerging media technologies are set to impact both the creation and production of media content and its distribution. Consumption will evolve too, such as optional graphics shown on screen and alternative audio options. 

Finally, the satellite sector, which has recently benefited from the emergence of small satellites and cheaper services, leading to new players entering the market and diversifying the sector. The stage is set for onstellations of innovative communications and sensing services in Low Earth Orbit. This trend is set to continue with fertile ground for experimentation and innovation through small satellite formations and virtual antennas; larger and more capable systems; re-usable satellites; manufacturing in space; and studies into solar power in space. 

Jo O'Riordan

Jo O'Riordan

Head of Spectrum Policy and Telecoms, techUK

Sophie James

Sophie James

Programme Manager, Communications Infrastructure and Services, techUK

Julia Ofori-Addo

Julia Ofori-Addo

Programme Assistant, BSG, Central Government, Financial Services Team, Comms Infrastructure, techUK