I’d fast-track the Na­tional Broad­band Plan and start build­ing fi­bre in­ter­net con­nec­tions to ev­ery ru­ral home in the coun­try. If more money were needed, I’d pro­vide it: an ad­di­tional €300m, €500m or €1bn is worth it to give Ire­land’s non-ur­ban re­gions the


2017 will see a year of very slow broad­band progress for those liv­ing out­side cities or big towns. While Eir and Siro (the joint ven­ture be­tween Voda­fone and ESB) will con­tinue to roll out fi­bre broad­band in the coun­try’s largest towns, very lit­tle will change for more than one mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in ru­ral parts of the coun­try.

The Gov­ern­ment has ad­mit­ted that the roll­out of the State’s Na­tional Broad­band Plan, which prom­ises high-speed con­nec­tions to all ru­ral homes re­gard­less of where they are sit­u­ated, will be de­layed again un­til 2018. (It says it has to get the con­tracts right be­fore it can build it out.) That means that up to half of those in ru­ral ar­eas will see lit­tle im­prove­ment un­til 2020. The cost in op­por­tu­nity fore­gone, in­vest­ment pitches lost and em­i­gra­tion could be huge.

It’s a fair bet that this will be the big­gest tech hard­ware story of 2017. Sure, the lat­est iPhone is al­ways big news. But next year is the 10th an­niver­sary of its launch. Al­ready, in­dus­try an­a­lysts are fever­ishly talk­ing about a ‘su­per cy­cle’ that will see the big­gest ever up­grade to an iPhone. The new model is al­ready tipped to have a curved glass shape with no bezel, no phys­i­cal but­ton and an abil­ity for ‘long range’ wire­less charg­ing.

While curved glass mod­els are al­ready around (see Sam­sung’s S7 Edge), Ap­ple is also likely to load the new phone with even bet­ter cam­eras and more stor­age mem­ory, fur­ther bed­ding it down as your main ev­ery­day com­puter and com­mu­ni­ca­tor. Then again, it could be some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

It may seem ironic to those strug­gling to get a de­cent 3G (yet alone 4G) mo­bile sig­nal in some parts of Ire­land, but 2017 will be the year when Ire­land’s main op­er­a­tors start se­ri­ously plan­ning for the in­tro­duc­tion of the next mile­stone in mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity — 5G. By def­i­ni­tion, that po­ten­tially opens the way for big steps in other parts of our lives.

Self-driv­ing cars, for ex­am­ple, may need very re­li­able, fast band­width to op­er­ate safely and ef­fec­tively on city streets. The same is true for a raft of ‘smart city’ ini­tia­tives which de­pend on con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion over the air­waves be­tween de­vices op­er­at­ing on their own with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion.

For pun­ters, it will mean get­ting fi­bre-grade speeds on your phone and portable com­put­ing de­vices. Where 4G cur­rently maxes out at around 60Mbs in real-world sit­u­a­tions here, 5G will eas­ily ex­ceed 100Mbs. Ever wish you could pay for your daily ba­sics in a shop or cafe with your phone? By theendof2017,youwill be able to do just this. In the last weeks of 2016, Google launched An­droid Pay, which al­lows you to ‘save’ a credit or debit card (AIB and KBC only, with more bank cards to come) into your An­droid (Sam­sung, Sony, Huawei and more) phone and then swipe or tap your phone against a con­tact­less ter­mi­nal any­time you want to pay for items un­der €30.

Some­time in 2017, Ap­ple may well fol­low suit in Ire­land with its own Ap­ple Pay sys­tem, which op­er­ates in a sim­i­lar way for iPhone own­ers. Not to be out­done, Sam­sung may also launch Sam­sung Pay here, too: it has said it will launch the pay­ment sys­tem in the UK early next year.

In late 2016, so­cial me­dia was blamed for help­ing to tip Don­ald Trump into the White House through the unchecked pro­lif­er­a­tion of so-called ‘fake news’.

It al­ready looks like this is go­ing to be a huge is­sue in 2017, although per­haps equally played out as a proxy is­sue as much as a real one. Be­tween them, Facebook and Google now take some three quar­ters of the on­line dis­play ad rev­enue in the US, and over half in the UK. That is lead­ing to sig­nif­i­cant re­sent­ment among big me­dia pub­lish­ers (and quite a few jour­nal­ists) who bris­tle at this mar­ket dy­namic. And this is not un­re­lated to the slew of commentary pieces, news sto­ries and high-handed editorials sug­gest­ing that some sort of in­ter­ven­tion should be on hand to bring so­cial net­works into a reg­u­la­tory frame­work ‘just like we have to deal with’. Oddly, the fo­cus is more on Facebook than Google, even though the lat­ter takes far more ad rev­enue. Google, you see, had been around long enough to be re­garded as an es­sen­tial util­ity. So it gets a bye. Facebook, though, has only re­ally started to rake it in over the last three years. And this has been at a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive time for pub­lish­ers, who face down­siz­ing and ex­is­ten­tial un­cer­tainty that are di­rectly linked to a loss of ad in­come (“to Facebook”). In this vein, ex­pect Facebook to face more and more me­dia hos­til­ity and in­sti­tu­tional calls for its wings to be clipped via reg­u­la­tion. There’s no get­ting away from more robots and smarter ma­chines en­ter­ing our lives or in chip­ping away at our jobs. This month, the first self-driv­ing Uber cars be­gan to pick up pas­sen­gers in the US. Ama­zon has re­leased a new video show­ing de­liv­ery by drone, this time in the UK. Mi­crosoft is rolling out ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that lets on­line bots call you via Skype on be­half of reg­u­lar com­pa­nies.

But while robot vac­uum clean­ers, smart homes and even clothes-fold­ing ma­chines may make life eas­ier for us, the mech­a­nised de­vices are com­ing for our jobs, too. Both Ama­zon and Ap­ple’s big­gest fac­tory part­ner, Fox­conn, are re­plac­ing thou­sands of hu­man em­ploy­ees with robots. Call-cen­tre op­er­a­tors are switch­ing hu­man agents for com­puter ones. And fast-food restau­rant own­ers are now start­ing to talk along sim­i­lar lines. (McDon­alds al­ready has self-or­der­ing ter­mi­nals in Ir­ish out­lets while US chain Carl’s Jr is con­sid­er­ing re­plac­ing burger-flip­ping staff with robots.)

2017 may be the year where we see roboti­ci­sa­tion and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence start to en­croach on jobs in ac­coun­tancy, fi­nance, mar­ket­ing and other whitecol­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. 2016 was sup­posed to be the big break­through year for vir­tual re­al­ity in our lives. It wasn’t quite that, but it cer­tainly made some sig­nif­i­cant strides. While PC-based vari­ants such as Ocu­lus and HTC are still see­ing slow sales growth, Sony’s launch of its Plays­ta­tion VR (an ad­don for its Plays­ta­tion 4 games sys­tem) may have given the teth­ered ecosys­tem its first sig­nif­i­cant mass-mar­ket boost.

Sam­sung’s mo­bile Gear VR head­set has sold pretty well, too, while Google and Facebook have both ded­i­cated a lot of at­ten­tion to it through new head­sets and ser­vices (such as Google Day­dream and 360 video on Facebook).

Some broad­cast­ers and pub­lish­ers are start­ing to film a few things in VR-friendly 360 de­grees, too. The New York Times and Wall Street Jour­nal have some in­ter­est­ing 360 con­tent on their mo­bile apps, while Sky has an­nounced its in­ten­tion to bring a lot more sport and doc­u­men­tary con­tent to a VR plat­form. To say that 2016 was a chal­leng­ing one for Ap­ple’s pres­ence in Ire­land is an un­der­state­ment. Just two weeks ago, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion con­firmed a €13bn fine, claim­ing that Ire­land has given un­fair and se­lec­tive state aid to the com­pany through tax pol­icy here. Ap­ple and Ire­land are both vig­or­ously chal­leng­ing the Com­mis­sion rul­ing. But if Brus­sels wins the day, will Ap­ple’s pres­ence in Cork — where it em­ploys 6,000 peo­ple — be jeop­ar­dised?

The elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as US pres­i­dent also has a bear­ing here: his ad­min­is­tra­tion looks likely to is­sue a repa­tri­a­tion tax amnesty for

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