7 Mobility Predictions and a Challenge for 2011
Jan. 14, 2011 (Vol. 32, No. 2)
The holidays are over and the new year is underway, and lots of folks found shiny new smartphones under their trees.
To be sure, 2010 brought big surprises: the first 4G smartphones, the launch of LTE-based 4G network services from Verizon and Metro PCS, the phenomenal growth rate for Android, and most importantly, the introduction of the tablet as the new mobile computing platform.
That’s a lot to digest, so I think 2011 will be a year where we begin to see the mobile world for the next decade take shape.
Read on for some predictions on how mobile networks, pricing, carrier strategies and enterprise trends will evolve in the next 12 months.
4G Networks Unveiled as Bandwidth-Hungry Users Strain Networks
Clearwire’s WiMAX and Verizon’s LTE now touch roughly one-third of the United States population, so 4G has clearly arrived. Hopefully Clearwire will be able to navigate their financial difficulties and stay in the game.
Watch for AT&T and T-Mobile to push their HSPA+ deployments in 2011. But with the move to mobile video, you can expect network capacity will still struggle to keep up with growing demand.
Skype video for the iPhone will bring this issue to AT&T’s doorstep, for example. AT&T has announced an expansion of its Wi-Fi offloading strategy, where it transitions users off its cellular network and onto one of its Wi-Fi Hot Spots. However, with only a handful of so-called “Hot Zones” nationwide, AT&T will still be fodder for T-Mobile to mock in its mobile video ads.
The End of Unlimited Plans
Pricing structures will evolve as carriers realize they can’t offer all-you-can-eat plans while bandwidth-hungry mobile applications are bellying up to the buffet. “Price rationalization” will be a key theme in 2011.
When first introduced, Verizon’s 5-GB 4G plans actually cost $10 per month more than their 5-GB 3G plan! Even holdouts like Clearwire may abandon true unlimited data plans as their subscriber bases build.
3G as Gateway Drug for Mainstream Users
My big prediction is a 3G “backfill” strategy by the mobile operators.
As aggressive, less price-conscious users push into 4G, carriers will offer more attractive 3G plans to tempt more users to upgrade from basic phones and texting phones to something that delivers a taste of the smartphone experience. Remember, fewer than 25% of U.S. mobile devices are smartphones today. As the carriers see their leading-edge users move to 4G, a 10% to 20% decrease in limited-capacity 3G plans would be a good strategy to attract those borderline users.
4G Smartphones Abound
In step with 4G networks, 2011 will be the year of the 4G smartphone.
Today, only two 4G smartphones are on the market, and both are for Clearwire’s WiMAX network. The carriers didn’t spend all that money on 4G deployment to support a few laptops, so expect at least a dozen 4G models by the year’s end.
The biggest development would have been 4G on the Verizon iPhone when it was announced on Jan. 11, but that didn’t happen. So for the near term, the Android population will be dominating the 4G world.
Continued Tablet Popularity, Especially for iPad
Tablets will continue to fly off the shelves, but given their “semi-portable” nature, I predict the vast majority will be Wi-Fi only models (unless operators offer more attractive pricing plans for dual device users).
Given the first-to-market advantage, the tablet market will be dominated by the iPad for 2011.
However, the market frenzy in tablets will continue; there were reportedly 100 tablets on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. Based on that, you should expect a replay of the Android catch-up with multiple models from multiple vendors. But you won’t see a solid picture on long-term market shares shake out until 2012 or beyond.
Mobile Device Market Shares Stabilize
This year will also be the year you will see market shares for mobile device ecosystems stabilize. While 2010 was all about the phenomenal growth of Android, if we have learned anything in mobility, it’s that no one product model is ever going to satisfy every user.
Core iPhone users will continue to occupy a special niche, but the more tech savvy among them are already chafing at Apple’s domineering control mentality and escaping to Android.
RIM is in the most vulnerable position with a product line that can only be described as stogy, and the Playbook tablet won’t offset RIM’s smartphone losses. Further, the move to BYOD (bring your own device) for enterprise customers will threaten RIM’s dominance in the corporate market. However, don’t underestimate RIM’s significant share of the consumer market or its growing international presence.
As smartphone market shares stabilize, the three leaders will be Android, Apple and RIM.
Microsoft’s Phone 7 didn’t show up until late 2010, so don’t expect it to hit 5%. Of course if it doesn’t show some substantial uptake in 2011, expect to hear the fat lady singing in 2012 or 2013.
Symbian, WebOS and LiMO will be sharing that “other” slice of the pie chart with Phone 7, but if apps fall to more generic browser-based services, they could still stage a surprise comeback – but not this year.
Android Backlash on the Horizon
My last prediction is an Android backlash – at least in the press.
Why? Because all of the news about Android this year was so marvelously positive. Someone will have to take the role of naysayer and find something negative to say about Android. My guess is that they will discover issues we’ve been on for several months, like the number of Android versions in circulation and the potential for “Android fragmentation.”
Don’t lose too much sleep over it. When the ruckus dies down, you’ll find there are pros and cons for each of the ecosystems, and market shares will tell us how relatively important those differences are.
Challenge: Enterprises Need to Leverage Mobility Developments
As consumers learn to use and love the latest developments in mobility, the closed bastion of corporate-responsible plans, company-provided devices and stringent policy controls is clearly under challenge. While that mindset is still prevalent in organizations with high security sensitivity (e.g., financial services) and those with large, high-turnover sales forces, many organizations will rethink their mobility policies.
Confounding the process is the fact that most organizations haven’t moved past looking at mobile devices as anything more than an expense to be monitored and controlled. This is why today’s “leading edge” is simply deploying Salesforce.com on mobile devices.
The mobility-as-a-liability mindset fits with a traditional command-and-control management philosophy, but it is a major obstacle to the next step. That next step is when an organization uses mobility to support business objectives like responding more quickly, closing sales faster and increasing profitability.
There is definitely a move toward BYOD, but the issues under discussion are focused on the past rather than the future. Cost control (either through corporate negotiated contracts or miserly stipends for user-owned devices) is still an issue, and so is security. The “honor system” for mobile security now employed in many organizations is little more than a fig leaf.
However, the viability of the BYOD concept is based on an assumption that mobile communications is independent of other noteworthy advances in networking like unified communications. Organizations must evaluate where networking is going and how mobile devices fit into that overall direction.
Finally, with an expansion in mobile platforms, you will see the decline of customized mobile applications and an increased focus on things you can do with a browser. “Custom applications” will become easy-to-use front ends for Web-based applications.
2011: Enterprises Can’t Afford to Lag Behind Market Developments
So 2011 will bring more smartphones, faster networks, accelerated tablet adoption and an environment where the market shares begin to gel. The days of “one size fits all” mobility are definitely over.
While it won’t have much impact on enterprise mobility, we will also see dozens of really great consumer tricks to “enhance the mobile experience” or just kill time while waiting for the bus.
There is not much to be enthusiastic about when it comes to significant developments on the enterprise front. There are simply not enough people in enterprise IT who are truly focused on mobility (not counting the finance guy who approves the invoices).
The tools are there; now we just need the carpenters.
Michael Finneran is an independent consultant, industry analyst, and writer who focuses on wireless technologies, mobile UC, and fixed-mobile convergence. He wrote the book “Voice Over Wireless LANs - The Complete Guide” (Elsevier, 2008), though his expertise spans the full range of wireless technologies including Wi-Fi, Cellular, WiMAX, and RFID. Contact Michael at email@example.com.