As usual in the frenetic mobile business, lots happened during 2012. Rapid change is the norm, and that change will continue next year. Here are 13 trends and projections you can expect to see in 2013.
The LTE build-out will continue in the new year. Verizon and AT&T are in the lead with LTE coverage, and that will increase further as some of the secondary markets come online. T-Mobile will begin LTE service, as will Sprint. We may see some TD-LTE here in the U.S. as a result. And, we will see more phones incorporating LTE. Once subscribers experience LTE’s typical 15-Mbit/s downloads, they will never want to go back to 3G.
Mergers And Acquisitions
Consolidation will continue with the carriers. The already announced acquisitions will probably take place. In 2012, T-Mobile got MetroPCS. Now, T-Mobile will get the iPhone and build out an LTE network. This will help it compete with the larger carriers Verizon and AT&T, but it will still be in fourth place.
Softbank of Japan will acquire Sprint and Sprint will get Clearwire, creating a larger third-place player that can better do battle with numbers 1 and 2. This may end the consolidation for a while as there are few major players left to buy up. U.S. Cellular, Cricket, Leap, Virgin, and a few others remain, but these smaller players don’t offer the critical mass to really make a sufficient dent in the market share.
New Smart Phones
We can look for some new phones during the new year. New phones are announced daily, so it’s difficult to keep up. But most notable are prospective new smart phones from both Amazon and Microsoft. Who would have thought? The more interesting new phone to come early in 2013 is RIM’s BlackBerry 10. If it’s good enough, it will save RIM. And who knows what will happen to Nokia? Its Lumina 920 is a super phone, but it has not caught on. So what’s next? Samsung will certainly have some new ones, as will HTC and LG and even maybe Motorola. Google’s Nexus 4 phone is an unknown factor too. It will be interesting to see what emerges from the 2013 International CES, Mobile World Congress, and CTIA this year.
Apple probably won’t release any new phones, though that could change. There once was a rumor of a low-cost iPhone, but I doubt that will happen. There may be a new iPhone 5S, an upgrade like the 4S was. Apple probably won’t have any new tablets either, except perhaps for some upgrades to the current crop. The big rumor is the Apple TV set. We shall see.
Near-field communications (NFC) will continue to creep forward and make inroads. The consortium ISIS is making progress in getting retailers involved. The group needs to educate retailers and consumers about how to sign up for NFC programs, though. More phones will get NFC as the chip vendors make low-cost silicon ICs and as NFC becomes part of combo wireless chips like those that Broadcom makes. There is still no Apple phone with NFC, but maybe it will be in the hypothetical iPhone 5S.
Spectrum will continue to be scarce. Most mergers and acquisitions are about spectrum deals. Hopefully the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will find some new space. The FCC is working on it here and there, but it is a seriously complex problem. Perhaps another auction will provide for that LTE rollout. In the meantime we may see some new players with spectrum. Dish Network, the satellite TV provider, recently got FCC approval to repurpose its 2-GHz region spectrum from satellite to terrestrial cellular networks. We will have to see if Dish Network invests the big bucks to build an LTE network.
The big players like Apple, Samsung, and even Motorola, Google, and a few others will continue to build income via litigation. This is driving everyone crazy. The cellular IP patent portfolio is huge and divided up among many players. It isn’t easy to know who has what. It’s no wonder we see violations. Many violations aren’t deliberate, and they’re necessary to make a competitive product. I wish there was some solution to all the litigation, and I’m sure others do too.
We should be seeing some small cells in 2013. There are few if any now, but most carriers plan to add picocells or microcells to help expand coverage in high-density areas that demand high speed. Femto cells are already widely deployed but who notices? While most small cells will be LTE, most will offer 3G service to cover WCDMA/HSPA phones without LTE. This will begin the era of the heterogeneous networks (hetnets). Is this 5G?
Wi-Fi will continue its steady growth. We will begin to see more 802.11ac routers and access points as well as 802.11ac embedded in laptops and even tablets. New 802.11ad 60-GHz modules will be widely available for laptops and docking stations plus some video applications. There also will be amazing 1-Gbit/s+ speeds over short distances. And, there will be more Wi-Fi offload as carriers struggle for an interim volume data solution until their LTE networks are built out.
Right now, LTE only carries data. The 2G/3G networks still carry voice. Yet Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is defined now and MetroPCS and South Korea Telecom are the only companies to have implemented it so far. Look for more VoLTE as the switchover to an all-LTE infrastructure begins.
The machine-to-machine (M2M) movement continues to quietly insert itself into everything, creating the Internet of Things (IoT). Even more growth is expected in the new year, but you probably won’t hear much about it. All the big news coverage focuses on consumer products, while M2M is more commercial and industrial. Even LTE M2M modules are now available for high-speed applications. Carriers are all addressing this opportunity.
With the emphasis shifting from the PC and laptops to smart phones, the growth of cloud services will continue. Software, storage, and other applications will surge as more subscribers update to smart phones
Over-the-top (OTT) video or Internet TV is growing, and many viewers are abandoning their cable TV subscriptions for Netflix, Hulu, Apple, Amazon, and other OTT sources for their video. This is happening on smart phones as well. Consumers want to watch TV even on a small screen. Will we ever get free over-the-air (OTA) HDTV? When will smart phones come with a TV receiver chip?
Thanks to the following organizations that provided input for this article: ABI Research, Analysys Mason, Broadcom Corp., Gartner, IEEE, IHS iSuppli, and Juniper Research.