2009 was a year that will be remembered as one in which the Great Recession colored many lives. However, as Mark Lowenstein noted recently in FierceWireless, aside from the downturn in handset sales, the wireless industry fared relatively well, all things considered. In times of great flux and economic certainty, disruptions are more apt to take place. And the disruptions of 2009 laid the foundation for what will likely be even more dramatic changes in the years to come.
In 2009, the prepaid price war sparked by Boost Mobile in January that continued throughout the year gave new life and vitality to the prepaid market. I think this growth is likely to peter out in 2010, but it certainly gave Sprint Nextel a reason to hope for brighter days ahead.
Another major disruption was the arrival of a new, action-oriented FCC, led by Julius Genachowski. Perhaps the most significant development in the entire wireless industry this year (and certainly the one that was the subject of the most intense lobbying) was the commission's decision to move ahead with new net neutrality regulations. It's unclear how large the exemptions and carve-outs for wireless operators will be when the final rules are written, but it should be clear to carriers by now that there's a new regulatory sheriff in town.
Smartphone operating systems also took center stage this year, as vendors and carriers alike embraced application storefronts in their bid to boost mobile data usage. Google, in particular, became more of a force this year in wireless, with more operators and handset makers embracing its Android platform as a sound bet amid prodigious smartphone growth. The fact that at the start of the year there was only one Android phone and now there are more than a dozen (with many more to come in 2010) speaks volumes about the kind of support Android has received. Though Android is still relatively young, it would be difficult to dismiss it going forward.
I've been covering the wireless industry for just over a year now and one thing has become clear to me this year: nothing ever remains static in the industry for long. Operating systems die and are reborn, companies shift their entire corporate strategies (think Motorola and Palm) to survive, and some companies simply don't survive at all (Nortel). In other words, disruptions happen all the time, and will continue to happen. All the industry can do is be prepared for it. --Phil
P.S. Please note FierceWireless is going on a holiday hiatus. We will be back in your inbox Monday, Jan. 4, 2010. Happy holidays!