How the Events of 2021 Will Shape Technology Trends in 2022 and Beyond

By Robert Hult | January 06, 2022

The 2020s will be a decade of transformation in every aspect of life. In 2022, we’ll see technology continue to play a role in solving humanity’s challenges.

We entered 2021 with the expectation that the COVID-19 pandemic would recede and the world’s people and economies would be on the road to normalcy. Multiple highly effective vaccines became available to broad swaths of the population, although misinformation and fear keep many people from getting inoculated. As a result, a series of virus mutations unleashed a new raft of restrictions and controversy.  

As the elephant in the room, the virus affected nearly every aspect of our business and personal lives. With months of pent-up demand, and the economy awash in fresh government cash distributions, consumers ready to buy goods — including electronics —are now experiencing supply shortages and price inflation. Manufacturing and service businesses are desperate to find workers, who have become more selective. Many senior employees have chosen to retire, resulting in a serious experience gap. Employees who experienced working from home during quarantine realized they did not have to live in crowded high-cost cities, sparking a real-estate boom in the suburbs where they could have a large yard and dedicated workspace. Video conference services such as Webex and Zoom verified the ability to conduct business meetings remotely at a lower cost. The adoption of telehealth and virtual education services accelerated by years. Most industry trade shows went virtual with varying degrees of success. Online retailers such as Amazon benefited from concerns about shopping in physical stores, accelerating the transition to virtual shopping.  

The pandemic exposed several vulnerabilities in our economy. Semiconductor chip shortages severely cut into the availability of new cars. As production of so many commodity products shifted offshore years ago, Western economies now experienced the repercussion of loss of control of manufacturing; plus, in the U.S., limited capacity of entry ports and distribution systems has slowed delivery and raised prices. Inflation, spurred by extended unemployment checks and a series of direct stimulus payments to most Americans, is at a 13-year high. A recent Bishop News Brief reported connector material costs rose over 42% year over year. In the U.S., we are seeing new calls for “Made in America,” which could become a long-term impact of the pandemic. In the U.K., Europe, and some Asian countries, repatriation of production is also under discussion. 

In this somewhat chaotic environment, the high-speed electronics segment achieved major advances driven by increasing demand for services and cost reduction. Data centers experienced exceptional capacity growth to support core, cloud, and edge applications. The enormous increase in video and gaming resulted in internet traffic growth of 35% in 2020, which proved capable of supporting demand in peak periods. As more sensors are integrated into industrial and home automation applications, demand for reduced latency, greater speed, and reliability will increase.  

Power reduction has become a top priority in design of data center equipment. The current rate of power consumption is rising at an unsustainable rate, which is driving the search for equipment and components that offer increased performance as well as power efficiency. 

The scientific community’s claims that the world is nearing a tipping point on addressing climate change are spurring serious exploration of alternatives to coal, oil, and gas. New “mini” nuclear power plants that are intrinsically self-regulating are designed to support a relatively small number of local customers. They are manufactured in a factory and can be brought on-line in a few years as opposed to onsite fabrication of conventional nuclear power stations that take decades to build and license. Even staunch environmentalists are beginning to recognize the zero emission advantages of 24/7 nuclear power generation. 

Environmental concerns are also driving adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). Billions are being spent on the development of EVs with increased range and shorter charge times. Electronic controls that manage the electrical systems as well as navigation, communication, entertainment, and future car-to-X links will provide extensive growth potential for rugged cost-effective connectors. The attractiveness of this market was confirmed by the announcement that Foxconn will be designing and manufacturing an electric vehicle in the United States. The Taiwanese company has also begun construction of a $9 billion chip fab in China to support automotive applications. U.S. and European automakers have set ambitious EV goals as well. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is permeating greater aspects of our daily life. Infusing AI into conventional machines allows them to quickly “learn” a new task, and sort and compare millions of line items or support interactive voice chat bots. AI is being integrated with edge computing to deliver intelligence with reduced latency. It is hard to predict how advanced AI will continue to evolve, other than its ongoing need for extensive high-speed data computing resources. 

Early adopters of 5G reported marginal performance gains and overheated phones, but broader adoption has driven 5G into a mainstream communications tool. In some cases, 5G and anticipated 6G networks may be poaching applications traditionally designed for Wi-Fi. Even cable operators recognize the threat that 5G poses to their traditional business model. 

Data security has emerged as a major threat to governments, corporations, and the average consumer. Hacking has become endemic, and ransomware attacks are a daily concern. State-funded hackers have proven their ability to stay at least one step ahead of detection software. 

Open-source hardware and software continues to increase in popularity. Designers want flexibility and access to innovation while not being locked into a single source. Open standards are also proliferating and tend to feature quicker development and update cycles with greater opportunity for innovation. 

Fiber optic interconnects are being recognized as the alternative to copper links in high-speed applications. Copper has been proven to achieve 112 Gb/s channels, but only in short lengths. The next speed target, 224 Gb/s, is expected to require fiber. Advances in silicon photonics are making fiber a cost-effective alternative to copper in a greater range of applications. Bringing fiber directly to a high-speed switch minimizes the power to drive long copper conductors and is seen as a strategy for power reduction. Coherent pluggable optical modules are being deployed to increase channel reach and capacity, especially in inter-data center links. Improved spectral efficiency enables the transmission of more data through existing fiber.  

Emerging optical technologies such as co-packaged optics (CPO) are being considered to support next-generation terabit switches and may become an alternative to pluggable transceivers. Many technical hurdles must be addressed before this technology will be ready for prime time. 

Ethernet continues to evolve with 400 Gb deployments now, 800 Gb test links, and development of standards to support 1.6 Tb Ethernet. 

PAM4 modulation and forward error correction (FEC) have been key enablers of accelerating high-speed channel data rates, but as rates continue to increase, engineers are considering PAM 6 and 8. Each introduces new design challenges but may be necessary to achieve next generation targets. 

Proposed infrastructure legislation would fund expansion of high-speed internet service to rural areas, increasing demand for optical cable and associated electronics. 

2021 was the year of broad digital adoption, spawning a range of winners and losers. As a result, in 2022 large and small businesses alike must embrace the changed landscape and adopt continuous flexible innovation as a way of life. 

Check out Bob Hult’s Top 12 Technology Trends series, in which he tracks the evolution of key technologies. 

Like this article? Check out the rest of Bob’s Technology Trends Series, our other Expert Trends articles, our Automotive and Telecom/Datacom Market Page and our 2021 Article Archives.

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