Everyone makes predictions at the beginning of the year, so I might as well take a shot too. Some predictions are obvious, like massive smart-phone growth, which I won’t bother detailing. But other predictions require some explanation.

Sluggish LTE Rollout

The Long-Term Evolution (LTE) rollout will be slow. Verizon is way ahead with the LTE infrastructure buildout, but AT&T is catching up. LTE only commands a fraction of the overall networks worldwide, and it will still be a fraction (albeit a larger one) at the end of the year.

MetroPCS is well on its way with LTE. Sprint’s decision to begin its LTE conversion early is a good sign. The high capital expenditures and lack of a wide range of affordable LTE phones are responsible for the lagging LTE adoption, but good progress will occur anyway. There were many new LTE phones at CES this year, at last. The increasing demand for smart phones, video, and the competition will drive the buildouts.

Small-Cell Proliferation

Small cells will begin to appear. Everyone says that the microcell/metrocell/picocell is the wave of the future for LTE. That makes sense, and several chip companies like Mindspeed (with its recent acquisition of Picochip), Freescale, and Texas Instruments are ready with devices.

So where are the end products? Femtocells are already out there but have not been that popular except outside the U.S. The complexity of integrating many small cells into the network is slowing adoption, but as LTE demand grows we should see some small cells later this year. The small cell will really come into its own with full LTE rollouts and LTE-Advanced.

More 802.11ac WLAN Products

802.11ac WLAN products will take off like a shot. Everyone has Wi-Fi, and it’s hard to name anything that doesn’t use it. The latest version, 802.11ac, is much faster and can hit speeds of more than 1 Gbit/s thanks to wider channels and multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO). It operates in the 5-GHz industrial-scientific-medical (ISM) band and is backward-compatible with 802.11n, the current standard, as well.

While 11ac is ideal for video streaming in consumer products where you will first see it, it is highly desirable for all applications because of the higher speed and greater link reliability. Chips are available now and end products like routers and TV sets are on the way. I see 11ac quickly replacing all other Wi-Fi versions in laptops, tablets, smart phones, and everything else beginning later this year.

Finally, Windows Phones

Microsoft Windows phones will get some traction. I’ve tired out one of these phones to get the feel of it, and I like it, maybe even better than the Android phones. You have to see it and try it to believe how neat it looks and works.

HTC and Samsung have Windows phones now, and Nokia will begin selling its Windows-based smart phones in the U.S. this year. They will be a bigger hit than most people suspect. Besides, iPhones and Androids are so “yesterday.” Demonstrations will be key.

New Bosses At RIM

RIM will get new management. By the time you read this, it may have already happened. RIM’s original founders and co-CEOs did a magnificent job of bringing you the BlackBerry and its e-mail system, but the company is falling seriously behind in the smart-phone race. RIM isn’t dead yet, though, and hopefully we will see some major helpful developments as a result of the new management quickly.

The iPad 3?

Apple will have a new product. But what will it be? I’m guessing it will be the iPad 3 and not a new iPhone. The iPhone 4S just came out in October and is doing well. It seems like new iPhone models come every two years, just as your two-year contract is expiring.

I see the iPhone 5, probably an LTE phone with near-field communications (NFC), as a 2013 product, but the new non-Jobs management at Apple may see it differently. More LTE coverage is needed first, and 2013 is more likely. One rumored Apple product is TV related. Maybe we will see it at this year’s International CES in Las Vegas.

The Power Of Four

Quad-core processors are coming. Most of the top phones sport dual processors, but the quads are coming. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon seems a good choice, though there are others like Nvidia’s new Tegra3. TI and Freescale have multiple-core chips too. And then there are Broadcom, Marvell, and Samsung. A quad-core battle is coming. They should begin showing up in tablets first and ultimately in smart phones as power consumption permits.

Better Backhaul

Backhaul is getting fixed. Backhaul links have been the bottleneck in the rollout of 3G and LTE basestations, but the old T1 lines are quickly being replaced with much faster fiber or microwave links. Look for more backhaul upgrades this year. Microwave is particularly attractive, especially for the smaller cells where running fiber is not possible or economical.

No IP Voice On LTE Yet

Don’t expect Internet protocol (IP) voice on LTE systems in 2012. Even on LTE networks, voice calls now go via the legacy GSM or cdma2000 2G technology. Eventually that will change to voice over LTE. Networks will slowly implement digital voice over LTE starting this year. Both phones and networks need work first. That work is ongoing. Maybe we’ll see it in 2013.

Progress For NFC

The so-called digital wallet developed by Google and Sprint is appealing with NFC radios doing the work. Buying with a cell phone rather than cash or a credit card will be a big hit, but it won’t see much action this year.

While NFC chips have been available for years and are affordable, few cell phones have them. More of the newer models will incorporate NFC this year, but there won’t be any critical mass. Back office systems are still being worked on and more progress will occur in 2012. I bet 2014 will be the year of the digital wallet.

More Cloud Computing

Look for more cloud services for smart phones and tablets. It is a good idea and people like it and will use it. Storage and video will dominate, but LTE is needed to make it practical. Amazon’s big hit Kindle Fire tablet is making it happen.

“Invisible” M2M Growth

The “invisible” machine-to-machine (M2M) growth boom will continue. The M2M and “Internet of Things” movement is advancing nicely. In addition to growing M2M cellular services, other wireless technologies like 802.15.4, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth are in the game with the smaller devices like the motes from Dust Networks.

When IPv6 finally gets widely adopted and embedded, we will then have enough addresses for all those billions of appliances, wireless sensors, and other stuff people are hell bent to connect to the Internet.

T-Mobile’s Moves

T-Mobile will continue business as usual but will step up its search for a solution. Will Deutsche Telekom relent and fund LTE so T-Mobile can maintain a U.S. presence? Probably not, but who knows. The U.S. is good business for them and they are a player. They may plan to raise funds for rolling out LTE. How about a joint venture? Another merger may be possible, but with whom? It’s too bad the government doesn’t let companies do what’s best. I like T-Mobile and want to see it succeed. In the meantime, AT&T and Verizon will continue to dominate.

Ultrabook Successes

Ultrabooks will be a big hit. They will take some tablet sales and some laptop sales and virtually kill the netbook. They’re also pretty cool. I’ve tried the MacBook Air and the Asus, and they’re great—thin, light, and instantly on. The SSD flash storage is more than adequate for most of us. They’re like a tablet that can run Office.

Tablets Keep Growing

Tablets will continue to grow—or should I say iPad sales will grow? Even with a huge number of new tablets from other companies, Apple will still dominate this class. Will any new feature will come along to distinguish one tablet from another? Over-the-air (OTA) TV maybe?

I thought HP’s TouchPad had a shot, but what do I know? Does a tablet with the Microsoft Windows 8 touch operating system (OS) have a chance? How about a Nokia tablet? Are you willing to buy a tablet that isn’t an iPad? According to consumer surveys, 70% or more say no.

Forget About The Apocalypse

Finally, the world won’t end on December 21, 2012, as some superstitions have it. The apocalypse will be cancelled since we all have way too much to do to have it all end so suddenly. So go ahead and make those long-term plans. And have a great year.