With a new year upon us, it’s a natural time to look ahead at the top telecom trends to watch in 2021. From 5G to edge computing to the Internet of Things, some of the recurring trends we’ve been hearing about for years are expected to gain significant momentum this year, and that equals big opportunity for fiber optic providers, installers, integrators and specialists.

Looking ahead, the year to come could be the start of a multi-year boom in demand for fiber optic cabling and infrastructure. Keep reading for a high-level look at the technology trends predicted to drive telco change and opportunity in 2021.

Demand for Fiber-to-the-Home Accelerates

When hundreds of millions of people around the world began working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many discovered they had inadequate home internet service. From video conferencing to file sharing to accessing VPN networks, working from home often requires an internet connection that’s reliable, high speed, and high bandwidth.

Fiber optic internet provides all three, giving at-home employees a more stable and secure connection to their co-workers and corporate offices. It also provides more adequate internet for things like virtual telehealth services, distance learning in the education sector, and more.

It’s no surprise then that the global fiber optic cable market is expected to grow from $37.95B in 2019 to $87.58B by 2023.

Edge Computing and 5G Reach Their Inflection Points

Many of the emerging technologies that have been teasing breakthroughs for years, such as 5G and edge computing, gained some real traction in 2020. This was thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, which required us all to work and connect in new ways, which in turn heightened demand for the rollout of these new technologies.

Beginning in 2021, both 5G networking and edge computing are predicted to evolve from being experimental to practical real-world deployments. Morgan Stanley, for instance, estimates the telco industry will spend around $225B on 5G technology alone by 2025.

The good news for those in the fiber optic industry is that—more and more—the fate of both 5G and edge computing seem critically tied to an expansion of fiber optic infrastructure. Both 5G and edge computing have inherent weaknesses that require extensive fiber optic cabling to thrive. 5G frequencies are weak and require networks of ethernet-connect mini-towers to expand coverage indoors, while edge computing requires the kind of real-time data transmission that only fiber optic ethernet can provide.

To begin laying the groundwork for the wider adoption of 5G and edge computing, telcos can expect increased demands to expand fiber optic infrastructure throughout 2021 and well beyond.

Customer Service Goes High-Tech

In addition to a rise in remote working, the COVID-19 pandemic also spurred changes in the world of customer service. Between social distancing, lockdowns, and the fear of virus spread, new customer expectations were forged overnight.

Demand for contactless service and self-service options rose dramatically in 2020, as businesses across all industries were forced to get creative, from curb side pickup to virtual real estate tours to touchless food delivery. And there’s every indication these new expectations are here to stay.

Tech, of course, is leading the way. AI and chatbots are being leveraged to provide self-service portals and on-demand customer service, while IoT sensors and devices are enabling everything from self check-ins at hotels to airports.

These changing customer expectations impact all industries, not just telco providers and installers. But all businesses need to adapt. Those who don’t may be left quickly behind by those who do.