One could devote pages to making predictions about the future of Infratech: new technologies will be developed and commercialized; exciting new digital interfaces and apps will be launched; impressive cloud-based enterprise systems will reduce costs; innovative new technology-enabled models will be tested. The list of potential and likely scenarios goes on.
What will be notable this year, however, won’t be the quantity or the aspiration of individual announcements, pilots and tools, but rather who is making them. Once again, expect the center of gravity to start moving towards the emerging markets.
This year, for example, India is due to start construction on the world’s first commercial Hyperloop line. If things go as planned, the next decade will see Indian companies and engineers create a massive new center of excellence based on an entirely new and innovative technology.
China is taking the same approach across a number of different technology sectors. The country has already virtually cornered the solar technology market and the 5G telecoms market. . And they are making significant leaps forward in new and emerging areas like AI and robotics. With hegemony over each new technology comes new skills, capabilities and opportunities.
Similar stories, albeit on a smaller scale, can be found across the emerging markets — in the tech hubs of Malaysia and Kenya, in the Smart Cities of Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, in the new digital service models being developed in Nigeria and South Africa.
Free from legacy infrastructure, models and regulation, it is these markets that are driving the Infratech agenda.
The gap seems set to widen over the coming year, somewhat worryingly for the mature markets. Innovation tends to have a network and cluster effect; leadership in one enabling technology (say, China’s leadership in 5G equipment and development) tends to unlock capabilities in other areas (in this case, the development of automated vehicles). The faster the emerging markets innovate, the faster they will leave the West behind.
Over the coming year, expect to see the emerging markets start to develop entirely new approaches to solving their infrastructure challenges. And expect the mature markets to start asking themselves how they should be responding to the same stimuli. Those who ignore this new model of technological evolution do so at their peril.
Look back: What did we predict? In 2019, we predicted that “the competition around new technologies [will] intensify as players continue to look for new opportunities to improve their services, products and revenues.”