Congratulations! It's just about mid-January, which means you made it safely through the holiday season, survived CES (if you went) and endured countless 2016 predictions pieces. This year, I held off on putting out my own predictions for a simple reason: I know a bunch of people who can do a better job than I can.
You see, while it's my job to look at telecom networks and services from a holistic perspective, I'm lucky enough to have a team behind me that goes much deeper. They might not all call themselves "experts," but I rely on their expert insights when forming my own views of the market – including the columns I burden you with from time to time. And, believe it or not, they've all got expectations for what 2016 holds in their little (or big) corner of the industry. In an effort to kick off the New Year with more insightful insights, here's what they're thinking (in my words – so don't hold the style quirks against them).
· Jason Marcheck (Telecom Networks Lead) – Network Performance Optimization Goes Complex for the Sake of Simplicity. IoT. Mobile broadband proliferation. LTE roll-outs. They're all driving network densification and increasing network complexity – to the point where complexity will become too much to manage. And what do operators do when they've got a problem like this? They look to their vendors. Here, they'll look for performance optimization across multiple network levels, and also across multiple access technologies. Key here will be the tools these vendors bring to the table – if nothing else, they'll be key in helping these vendors differentiate.
· Ron Westfall (Back Office Infra) – Vendors Ready Data Monetization Tools. As consumers and enterprises demand new levels of personalization and control over their data plans, OSS/BSS suppliers face a choice. Risk ignoring the demands or expand data plan management capabilities (EG, device and location-specific self-care provisioning) in order to support operator requirements. Will operators leverage these new capabilities to expand their influence within the digital ecosystem? Nobody knows. Will vendors be ready to help them try? Doubtless.
· Ed Gubbins (RAN Infrastructure) – Small Cells Embrace Unlicensed Spectrum. Last year saw small cell vendors actively promote License-Assisted Access (using LTE in both licensed and unlicensed spectrum for added capacity and reliability). Will this continue into 2016? Of course, especially as the standard is finalized and LAA-toting small cells come to market. More importantly, however, we'll get variations on the theme. We'll hear about LTE/WiFi Aggregation support and maybe even MuLTEfire (LTE in unlicensed spectrum with a licensed "anchor"). If nothing else, as LWA gets fully standardized, vendors will be looking to differentiate their offers and strategies.
· Emma Mohr-McClune (Consumer Lead) - All Hail the Customer Experience. The necessity to revise, scrutinize, and in some cases entirely reinvent existing lines of business in the name of the best-optimized customer experience will be a major preoccupation among telcos in 2016. It will also come with drawbacks. Although much needed, this new discipline risks decelerating service innovation, as product leaders seek to attain the necessary sign-offs and various quality control approvals for a timely launch of each and every new service function and feature. Challengers will be beating the same drum, looking to out-perform incumbents in terms of customer satisfaction and digital efficacy, as well as pricing.
· Avi Greengart (Consumer Platforms and Devices) – AR/VR Arrives as Home IoT Matures. If you showed up to CES, you couldn't help but run into multiple augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) demos. Will 2016 be the first year that premium VR and AR systems arrive for consumer purchase? Yes. Will it be the start of a new computing paradigm? Maybe, but it will still take several more years for the technology to go mainstream. Similarly, consumer home IoT devices have been on the market for years and 2016 will see ecosystems that corral them into being useful for non-geeks. Again, however, this is another segment that is going to require years of refinement and evolution before it's fully mature.
· Tammy Parker (Connected Living) – Smart Home Provider Melee. Just as home IoT devices are still maturing, the near-term future for smart home services is a mixed one; incumbent wired and wireless service providers will continue to face challenges from entrenched competitors and startups alike. Competition, of course, will drive carriers to enhance their offerings and portfolios in 2016. Expect to see more startups (e.g., SimpliSafe) go for third-party appeal with low prices, and GSM, CDMA or landline connectivity options for connectivity, with operator-backed software companies gaining a foothold elsewhere.
· Peter Briggs (Comms Services) – VoLTE and VoWiFi Evolution. 2015 saw VoLTE rollouts finally begin to ramp and it could rightly be called a watershed year for WiFi Calling. Job done for carriers on the communications innovation front, right? Not quite. With a little bit of experience (and improved IMS toolkits) under their belts, 2016 will see carriers move on VoLTE roaming and integrated dialers with WiFi / LTE handover. Done right, calls will still 'simply work.' Of course, in the on-going telco-vs-OTT battle, don't expect to see these moves go unacknowledged; OTT counters will take inspiration from early U.S. innovation that delivered carrier call services across multiple, non-SIM devices.
· Natasha Rybak (Commerce Services) – Contactless Diversity. Consumer interest in connected wearables is picking up. Consumer familiarity with contactless payments is following a similar trajectory. It's only natural, then, for financial industry players, payments facilitators and device manufacturers to push contactless payments beyond plastic cards and phones. What might you be paying with in 2016? Think items such as apparel, accessories and jewelry as providers experiment to ascertain likely consumer taste and preference amidst the tumultuous trends in fashion and lifestyle.
· Lynnette Luna (Content and Content Delivery) – Content vs. Net Neutrality. Unless you spent much of last year under a rock, you know that carrier content innovation was rife in 2015. Building on this, 2016 will see more carriers put net neutrality rulings to the test, particularly were there are gray areas in acceptable best practices and ambiguity still to clear up. In the US, the FCC will spend time looking at T-Mobile's BingeOn, Verizon's Go90 video offering and AT&T's Sponsored Data program. Elsewhere, expect other carriers to test their local or regional regulation boundaries.
· Jamie Huff (Consumer Services Pricing) - International Enhancements Continue. Mobile Without Borders from T-Mobile. Open World from Sprint. Both offers drove rivals AT&T and Verizon to improve calling, messaging and roaming features in North America. Yet, there's still room for improvement…from everyone. 2016 will see T-Mobile and Sprint continue to make international enhancements, forcing AT&T and Verizon to improve their offerings. What to expect? Enhanced data roaming and larger data buckets in Mexico from AT&T along with improved roaming rates in Canada (maybe unlimited text and 1GB of data to match what it currently does for Mexico). And, where Verizon doesn't include international long distance calling or roaming with its flagship Verizon Plan, look for Verizon to respond to competitors by including long distance calls with select Verizon Plan offerings.
Click here for a larger version of this image.
· Kitty Weldon (Enterprise Mobility Lead) – Industrial IoT Competition Gets Sticky As Carriers Go Up The Stack. While the exuberant predictions of a 2020 with 50B IoT connections have been downsized by most vendors, there remains an aura of inevitability about Industrial IoT market development. As deployments continue to move forward, service providers will continue to look for ways to expand beyond commodity-priced connectivity as a means to grow ARPU. This means competing with integrators and equipment vendors in key value-added services such as consulting and integration, application development, and data analytics. If you're paying attention, these same integrators and vendors will likely remain "partners." Yep, we're going to hear a lot more about "co-opetition."
If you've made it this far, let me pass along one more – it's going to be a fun year. That might sound trite, but think about it for a moment. We've got continuing LTE evolutions, 5G on the horizon, new competitive dynamics, new acquisitions and partnerships, and lots more going on. Sure, much of this is an extension of themes under development for the past few years. These themes, however, represent fundamental changes in the market and it can't help but be fun to see them mature.
Peter Jarich is the VP of Consumer and Infrastructure at Current Analysis. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.