And, of course, there are WiMAX and LTE. LTE is closing in on becoming a reality with Verizon Wireless leading the pack, AT&T not far behind and many other network operators committing to LTE as their next-generation technology. Meanwhile, WiMAX is making inroads in rural areas around the world where Internet access is needed. WiMAX systems are also serving rural America, many being promoted by educational organizations. Clearwire raised yet another $3 billion for its network buildout, but it is not clear (pun intended) how it will compete in metro areas where there are already six to eight choices for wired and wireless broadband services. Moving into metro areas instead of sticking to its original plan to serve smaller communities, Clear has set itself up to go head-to-head with Verizon and AT&T as they roll out their LTE networks on 700 MHz.
The smartphone is becoming the preferred device for many and we saw a lot of them introduced in 2009, including some dubbed "iPhone killers" that were not. Several smartphones based on the Android open operating system from Google hit the market as well, and there are more to come. But the BlackBerry and iPhone are still the most popular devices because they are end-to-end solutions--customers do not have to build their own ecosystems.
How could we talk about 2009 and not mention app stores? Led, of course, by Apple, now everyone has an app store, and while Apple's is wildly successful, most of the others are off to a slow start. The network operators are trying to beef up their own stores since apps stores that sell direct to the customer eat into a network's income and are a threat to the all-important ARPU figures. I suspect that app stores will morph once again over the next few years, perhaps to follow a business model in which the networks can share in the revenue stream.
Ebooks, led by the Amazon Kindle, have become an "in" thing. The business model is great. There are no contracts with wireless network operators and customers pay by the book (at reduced prices). The Kindle is truly an appliance that uses wireless for its communications media and not a communications device that is also a reader. There are other appliances on the market that employ wireless technology and the numbers are growing. Wireless is being used in many navigation devices, dog collars, game systems, and more. Qualcomm has gone direct to the consumer with its Flo mobile TV service and there are now mobile-TV-only devices available.
I have only scratched the surface of 2009 and things are happening faster than ever before. This year was, indeed, a whirlwind of wireless activity--2010 is shaping up to be a category 4 hurricane.
Andrew Seybold is an authority on technology and trends shaping the world of wireless mobility. A respected analyst, consultant, commentator, author and active participant in industry trade organizations, his views have influenced strategies and shaped initiatives for telecom, mobile computing and wireless industry leaders worldwide. www.andrewseybold.com