It's the end of the year and that means it's time to reminisce about what happened during the past year and whether the Top 5 predictions I made in January about the industry were on target, totally missed the mark or fell somewhere in between.
Here's how I scored:
1. Not everyone will make it in the MVNO market. I have to say I got an "A" on this one. Mobile ESPN was the first casualty, and the market quickly soured on these once industry darlings. What I said in January holds true: It's a tough market when virtual carriers have to acquire customers less expensively to make a return on the investments in their own wireless platforms such as billing, customer care and network switching. Those focused heavily on data and content are required to make some significant investments around unique content and sophisticated marketing. ESPN was one of the most well-known brands around, but consumers just didn't want to buy an ESPN-branded phone to access ESPN content. The big brands that people thought would bring in the customers just don't cut it in the ultra-competitive mobile phone world. Amp'd Mobile and Helio have reported some interesting ARPU numbers and subscriber additions, but they can't be labeled successes yet.
2. Can municipal WiFi deliver what the politicians promise? I give myself a "B" on this one. We did see several public WiFi business models work in 2006, but other municipalities, especially San Francisco, which has spent the entire year working on a deal with Google/Earthlink, learned the value of due diligence. Muni-WiFi is so hot that telecom companies like AT&T who once staunchly opposed them have joined the game. Still, these networks are fairly new, and there are still a lot of questions about what type of loads they can handle, especially those based on single radios. Cities are also learning about what business models are most realistic.
3. Like it or not, mobile advertising is coming. I have to give myself an "A" on this one. Operators know they need advertising to expand data consumption and generate more data revenues as monthly recurring charges for content begin to hit the ceiling. I predicted that we'd see many experiments in this area as carriers delicately look for ways to create acceptance of wireless advertising without turning off the customer. There were a plethora of advertising-related announcements. Virgin Mobile introduced in May Sugar Mama, an advertising initiative that allows its young customers to sign up for the offering through Virgin Mobile USA's website for three types of advertising: text messaging, video ads and questionnaires, and use those options to earn up to 75 free minutes of talk time per month. Yahoo and go2 Directory Systems made a deal to put Yahoo-sponsored listings on the go2 Directory local-search website carried by Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Cingular Wireless. Enpocket developed a custom-built solution for Sprint Nextel to allow the operator to integrate advertisements into the carrier's WAP deck. But the bottom line is that the industry is a long way from seeing a big impact from mobile advertising. It still gets a bad rap.
4. Mobile high-speed networks fight for laptops, extend lead over WiMAX. I was partially right, but I have to give myself a "D." I said that as operators continue to lower their pricing for data access, we will see 3G begin to usurp WiFi data consumption. Well, consumers' desire for WiFi only got stronger--to the point where they now expect it in most public locations. Meanwhile, there was little downward movement on the 3G data pricing front. Sprint Nextel made an attempt by unbundling data access from voice plans while Verizon has been offering pay-as-you-go pricing to customers who buy certain notebooks with embedded EV-DO capabilities.
I also said that WiMAX will make its debut in the fixed wireless world but will fail to make a significant impact on the wireless market as a whole since vendors aren't expected to introduce any significant volume of mobile WiMAX equipment until later this year or early 2007. And I correctly predicted that the hype cycle would definitely turn in WiMAX's favor if Sprint Nextel chose the technology in the 2.5 GHz band.
5. MediaFLO vs. DVB-H: The battle for market position. I have to give myself a "B+" on this. The winner of the stand-alone mobile TV network market just might be Qualcomm's MediaFLO. Everyone always thought it would wrap up CDMA operators Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, but they weren't expecting GSM operators to jump on board. However, it looks like that just might be the case. It is public knowledge that T-Mobile is testing the service and now rumor has it that Cingular Wireless is looking into MediaFLO too. Meanwhile, things don't look too hot for DVB-H network operator Modeo, which has yet to receive an endorsement from a U.S. operator, and there hasn't even been a hint that any operator went so far as to conduct a market test. Modeo has embarked on a go-it-alone strategy with plans to launch its network in New York City. It's going to sell an unlocked GSM phone that supports the Modeo-branded mobile TV services. One surprising thing to me was the lack of technology bashing reminiscent of the GSM vs. CDMA debate. It's clear operators are looking at what provider can offer the best economics. 2007, however, will be the proving ground for this model.
Enjoy our year in review. Thank you for your readership in 2006. We look forward to serving you in the coming year. After a break next week, we will be back on January 2nd. Enjoy the holidays.-Lynnette