It's January. That means almost every analyst, journalist and talking dog has already taken time to expound on their views for what lies ahead in mobility this year. For the most part, none of this (beyond the stuff from the talking dogs) has been surprising. After all, prediction pieces generally extend what happened this year along a (safe) logical path. One thing that has surprised me is what most of these predictions left out: THE END OF THE WORLD!
Okay, if you ended up wasting $10+ on the horrible 2012 movie starring John Cusack, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for anyone who got caught up (however briefly) in the whole "2012 phenomenon." It turns out that even the remaining Mayans think it's stilly that people are equating the end of a cycle in the Mayan Long Count Calendar with the end of the world. Putting the end of the physical world aside, however, I have heard some interesting theories about the end of the mobile ecosystem that (suspiciously) seem to align with the arrival of 2012.
Don't get me wrong, nobody's suggesting that people will begin giving up their mobiles in favor of fixed-line voice or that the pace of mobile broadband adoption will take a breather next year. Yet, considering some of the technologies, trends and market dynamics that have driven the mobile industry for the past few years, it can be argued that key parts of the ecosystem look to be less exciting or dynamic in 2012. It can be argued that the evolution of these themes is closing on an end. Those arguments, however, would also be wrong.
LTE. If LTE is a "long term evolution" the answer to "what comes after 4G" is a pretty straightforward: not much. We've heard again and again how LTE, and even 3G evolutions like HSPA+, have taken us up to the limits of airlink efficiencies. Analog wireless begat 2G. 2G begat 3G. 3G begat 4G. But, that's pretty much where things end. If not the end of the world, it's at least the end of the end of the line for major technology evolutions. Technology purists, of course, would tell you that LTE wasn't what the ITU originally had in mind as 4G. LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) is where standards bodies and vendors hope to bring us (in theory, at least) the 1 Gbps data rates that are a hallmark of IMT-Advanced. It's also where vendors will, likely, be demonstrating their capabilities this year--opening up room for differentiation based on what aspects of LTE-A they've invested their R&D in. Some of these (think high-order MIMO and coordinated multipoint) aren't likely to see mass application any time soon. Others (think carrier aggregation and heterogeneous networks) will change the way networks are built and spectrum is managed. Even without LTE-A, however, the commercialization of today's LTE is just beginning. The new applications and business models mass market LTE adoption will deliver--think the foundation for service experimentation like tiered speed pricing--is where the fun really begins.
Mobile Operating System Platforms. We spent a good deal of early 2011 talking about who would be the third player in a proverbial mobile OS three horse race. Is this really a question? RIM's delays in bringing BB10 to market have no shortage of people betting against it making a turnaround. Like Symbian before it, the move to take webOS open source doesn't bode well for any sort of uptick in market share. This leaves us where we were in early 2011--Android and iOS dominating, with Windows Phone doing its best to grow its relevance. By definition, a three horse race (even if one is a dark horse) means we've got competition. But what if it is "game over" for everyone else? The glass half empty folks would suggest that this makes the marketplace a lot less dynamic. Everyone, however, else needs to know that this leaves lots of room for competition between the remaining players, particularly as the integration of cloud, communications and media services evolves and the battle for the enterprise heats up (can anyone say Windows 8 tablet?). And even though nobody's going to be bowing out of the race anytime soon--meaning lots of attempted innovation from scrappy open source or otherwise ailing platforms--2012 should be the year where HTML5 makes its significance even clearer. All the signs were there in 2011 that interest in making HTML5 a success is running high... if it can execute on its promise, the real winners could be new mobile operating systems aimed to play well with the technology and largely disintermediate the importance of the OS itself.
Customer Experience Management. When the telecom industry comes around to making the concept of "customer experience management" (aka, CEM) a buzzword, you'd think we'd come to the end of times. After all, the concept of keeping tabs on service quality and weighing service offers against specific customer demands is at once both so incredibly generic and yet something that seems like it should be a fundamental business practice. Regardless, as much as I ridiculed the concept of CEM in the early part of 2011, there are real reasons to expect that it's more than just the next overhyped, meaningless mobile theme. Unlimited data plans may be coming to an end, but operators are still looking to further refine their pricing structures, emulating the airline industry in extracting maximum value from their customers--all while minimizing churn. To be sure, this is nothing new. But, if new mobile broadband adoption helps to speed competition from over-the-top players, this type of thinking becomes all the more important. If LTE helps operators think about new business and tariff models (to accompany their new networks)... all the better. Helping them do so holistically, will be no small matter. Among other things, it will require data inspection tools, analytics support, OSS/BSS tweaks, API exposure, an understanding of best practices, device side experience measurements and maybe even support in getting disparate business units to agree on a common agenda. It's not clear, yet, that operators are aligned in how think about or purchase CEM solutions. 2012 probably won't see any sort of alignment emerge, but vendors will, doubtless, be doing everything they can to drive their own agendas.
Peter Jarich is the Service Director leading Current Analysis telecom infrastructure practice. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.