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Businesses and consumers live and die by the network. We work and play in an always-connected world and know that productivity and entertainment can suffer when connectivity is unreliable. To that end, we have been awash in technology that promises to make our lives better.

For the most part, it has succeeded, but what does the future hold for our networking needs? Let’s dive in and take a look at my networking predictions for 2020.

SEE: Cheat sheet: How to become a network administrator (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. Network automation will be essential

Following in the footsteps of Kubernetes, network automation will become a must-have, thanks to greater reliance on edge computing and Internet of Things (IoT). More devices will live on the cloud’s edge that require constant updates sent to centralized data stores. The only way to do this with any speed, consistency, and reliability is with automation, and more businesses will rely on it for their network environments. This will lead to the deployment of more complex networking solutions without depending on human intervention to keep those networks running smoothly.

SEE: More tech predictions for 2020 (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

2. AI will extend to networking

Part of network automation will be artificial intelligence (AI), but AI will not only drive the automation of network deployment, it will be key to smarter networks. AI will allow businesses to route traffic with greater intelligence and predictability and will become crucial as more 5G networks are rolled out and edge computing becomes the standard for IoT device proliferation.

3. Wi-Fi 6 will be mainstream

Wi-Fi 6–also known as AX WiFi or 802.11ax–is the next standard for wireless technology and was created to support the growing number of deployed devices with improved traffic routing. This new protocol debuted in 2019, and by the end of 2020, Wi-Fi 6 will be mainstream, and all mobile devices will support it.

SEE: Meet the Wi-Fi 6 routers that support 802.11ax (CNET)

4. 5G will be released in every major city

5G has had a tough road to reality, but 2020 will see this new standard unleashed in every major city around the globe and bringing fundamental changes to network connectivity. With greater speeds, reach, and flexibility, 5G will not only make consumers happy, it will enable massive innovation within the realm of edge computing and bring improvements with last mile connectivity, Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN), video surveillance, network capacity, and much more.

5. Big shake-ups in the web browser war

Although this pains me to say, the web browser war will be won–at least temporarily–by Microsoft Edge. Why? Microsoft did the smart thing and rebuilt its browser on top of the open source Chromium, which was already a proven commodity favored by many open source users. With Microsoft releasing its Edge browser, it will see an uptick in user base, thanks to a native Linux version; however, this victory will be short lived, as the competition will clamor to reclaim the top spot.

I also look for the alternative browser Vivaldi to grow in popularity, thanks to increased security measures and an unrivaled speed and reliability.

The browser war will be more heated than we’ve ever seen, and users will benefit because the major browsers will have improved in every category.

SEE: Microsoft gets ready to roll out the new Edge to Windows 10 via Windows Update (ZDNet)

6. The return of the desktop groupware suite

Call me old-fashioned, but I long for the return of the desktop groupware suite. In this world where the cloud reigns, there is little room for client-based tools, but I predict that we’ll see a massive cloud-based data breach unlike anything ever witnessed. This will lead to consumers and businesses (at least temporarily) turning away from web-based groupware tools in favor of desktop iterations. On the heels of such a breach, most email providers will require challenging passwords and two-factor authentication (2FA) or multifactor authentication (MFA), which will be rolled into the new crop of releases for groupware suites.

SEE: Serverless computing: A guide for IT leaders (TechRepublic Premium)

7. Edge as a Service takes center stage

Technology loves its acronyms, and one that will get its time in the spotlight is EaaS (Edge as a Service). With this technology, edge nodes and devices will advance from bridging centralized networks and processing and transmitting data to interacting with the public on a level of efficiency and reliability never seen.

For example, you have edge devices deployed in high-traffic urban areas where data collection and security are crucial. Instead of users relying on insecure and intermittent networks to pay for or log into services, those deployed edge devices could collect and verify this data in real time and send it off when the connection becomes more reliable. Edge devices become the intermediary service between user and network. We’ll see such technology deployed in more locations and in more unique ways.

SEE: From cloud to edge: The next IT transformation (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

What are your networking predictions?

Many of my predictions stem from experience and changes and innovations I wish to see. Even if none of these predictions come true, we can hope that technology will continue to serve us with greater security and reliability.

Share your networking-related predictions for 2020 in the comments section.