FierceBroadbandWireless Predictions for 2011


Every year FierceBroadbandWireless compiles a list of the top things I think will happen in the coming year. And just so you know, I like to be bold in my predictions--I'd rather be wrong than be vague. It's much more fun that way. --Lynnette

(Also, check out how I scored in a look back at my 2010 predictions.)

2011 Prediction 1. 4G marketing wars heat up: More innovative pricing comes into play. Much debate has emerged over the term "4G" and the fact that mobile operators are applying it to their various flavors of high-speed data networks--HSPA+, WiMAX and LTE. At this point there is no clear marketing delineation as to how one operator's "4G" is better than another's, except for the fact that T-Mobile says its footprint is bigger.

The challenge in 2011 for operators will be to set apart their 4G experiences from those of their competitors. So far, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has come to market with two simple plans: 5 GB of data for $50 per month and 10 GB of data for $80. But operators should expand to pricing scenarios based on a bucket of data shared among devices, as well as pricing based on different levels of quality of service. Policy companies are embarking on the next generation of policy engines capable of charging for data in all sorts of ways. The move to more innovative pricing, however, won't happen until the second half of 2011.

2011 Prediction 2. One network type won't do it all. The notion of small-cell architecture is gaining momentum as operators deal with the data deluge on their 3G networks and map out their LTE plans. Once somewhat of an afterthought, small-cell architectures--whereby operators fill in their macro coverage with picocells to boost capacity, throughput and coverage--may very well be in the forefront of new LTE networks. Femtocells also should finally pick up steam in 2011, and operators will look at additional ways to offload data to WiFi networks. In the future, TD-LTE, along with FDD LTE deployments, will be the norm, and some operators will mix LTE and WiMAX.

2011 Prediction 3. Harbinger won't live up to its promises. I'm not declaring that the entity will go out of business, but its come-to-market wholesale LTE strategy is over the top given the fact that it is building out a brand new network by combining satellite services with terrestrial LTE services. LightSquared has said its wholesale LTE network will allow for terrestrial-only, satellite-only or integrated satellite-terrestrial services (via the terrestrial and MSS spectrum Harbinger scored through a merger in March with satellite operator SkyTerra). LightSquared is planning initial LTE trials in Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix, with commercial launches planned by the third quarter of 2011. The company, which has access to 59 MHz of spectrum, has said its network will consist of around 40,000 cellular base stations covering 92 percent of the U.S. population by 2015. Such a network configuration is relatively unique, and casts doubt on how LightSquared wholesalers will procure dongles and eventually smartphones. Moreover, we have yet to hear of any wholesale partners or even rumors of partners. I predict that we'll see no commercial launch of LightSquared service in 2011.

2011 Prediction 4. LTE will come to market with some creative engineering. Given the flexibility of LTE technology (it can be deployed in small swathes of spectrum and in several bands), we'll see players come to market in different ways. We've already seen MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) downplay the speed of its network, primarily using LTE for capacity, and passing on the sale of dongles. Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) said it will use LTE technology, at least initially, to enhance its 3G capacity, and likely will build "hotspots" of LTE coverage in some of its markets beginning next year. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) plans to do the same. We will see, thanks to LTE, a resurgence of MVNOs--including service providers--looking for a data play as more connected devices come to fruition.

2011 Prediction 5. TD-LTE comes to market. TD-LTE was just a twinkle in the eye at the beginning of 2010, but it gained a tremendous amount of momentum by the end of the year. Market watchers say the technology progressed rather quickly throughout the year, thanks to China Mobile's aggressive plans for the technology. Moreover, chip makers such as Qualcomm and Sequans are heavily focusing on getting the technology out the door. As such, TD-LTE will be here by mid-2011.

And please note: These are our predictions and they come from careful analysis of the news. We don't have inside information, nor do we have any knowledge of actual deals that may or may not happen.