Welcome back from the holidays. FierceWireless is kicking off 2006 with our predictions for the Top Trends of 2006 in this special issue.
Though five years late in the hype cycle, 2005 finally saw 3G WCDMA networks get off to a meaningful start around the world. WCDMA now boasts actual working handsets with attractive form factors and a range of pricing options. It's finally prime time. In the U.S., meanwhile, Verizon Wireless aggressively expanded its EV-DO service, launched the consumer V-Cast service, and later Sprint Nextel jumped on the bandwagon with a nationwide launch and the introduction of the Power Vision consumer service. Both Verizon and Sprint now offer a handful of high-speed data phones. Cingular Wireless, which inherited six WCDMA networks from AT&T Wireless but didn't actively market the service, was the first in the world to introduce HSDPA, a faster version of WCDMA, but without the handsets. We'll see if Cingular can launch HSDPA handsets or will have to revert to launching WCDMA handsets, which can't process the high speeds HSDPA offers.
The proliferation of 3G is setting the stage in 2006 for more of what we saw in 2005--major activity from global media conglomerates in the wireless arena. The industry buzz indicates a major jump into mobile video, downloadable music and more sophisticated gaming. ABC, FOX, Disney and a host of others will toy with a range of mobile TV programming scenarios, exploring the possibilities for reused television content, original content or a mix of the two in an array of bundled programming packages. Carriers will fine-tune their online music strategies, bringing pricing down, offering full-music tracks and creating deeper alliances with major online music players which have already established a successful model for digital music. And major gaming companies have a clear eye on the mobile arena, evidenced by video-game giant Electronic Arts recently buying itself into the wireless gaming market in a major way through its acquisition of Jamdat.
Expect to see the last component required to deliver a fully functioning mobile Internet solution--the mobile search engine. Carriers have historically played gatekeeper to the mobile Internet, keeping their customers within branded portals, but the trend is changing with carriers moving away from a walled-garden approach. They are beginning to understand that a shift from being a full content provider to being a transport infrastructure that provides content will usher in the real mobile Internet. As a result, expect to see lots of big Web search-engine players such as Yahoo! and Google fight to become the service of choice.
In 2006 the marketing game will change dramatically for operators. With penetration well above 60 percent, the battle will be for the switchers who will not only hear a host of pitches from mobile operators themselves, but from a plethora of new brands, MVNOs and cable companies. Innovative marketing and more sophisticated segmenting of the customer base will be prerequisites to compete. As such, expect to see much more differentiation when it comes to mobile data offerings. The race is on for unique and exclusive content, resulting in major alliances between carriers and well-known brands.
I believe this new year promises to be an extremely interesting one for the U.S. wireless industry. Wireless has definitely captured the eyes of several well-known players from other powerful industries, including Disney, Google, Comcast, eBay-Skype and a host of other companies we never even thought would be interested in wireless. Some will make it, and some won't. Look for 2006 to be the grand experiment for these folks.
We look forward to bringing you the top stories every day to keep you on top of the wireless and mobile Internet market. Without further ado, let's ring in the New Year with the Top Trends of 2006. - Lynnette