2012 Prediction: A third mobile ecosystem emerges (or doesn’t); plus other trends

2012

Editor’s Note: RCR Wireless News asked wireless industry analysts and executives to provide their predictions for what they expect to see in 2012 across their areas of expertise.

One of the biggest stories of 2012 will be whether anyone credibly challenges Apple and Google in mobile phones and the apps, content and services ecosystems that support them. Time is running out for Microsoft and RIM to convert consumers upgrading from featurephones; stealing subscribers away from iOS and Android will be an even more difficult task.

Microsoft is certainly going to give it a good shot – will RIM? It is also possible that Amazon or Facebook could decide that they need to control more of the mobile platform; Amazon is already making a strong push in media-centric tablets with an OS based on Android – will it try its hand at phones, too?

The tablet market gets interesting, again

2011 saw several competitors flame out with tablets – it turns out that you can’t sell iPad clones that are less versatile than an iPad, at or near the same price as the iPad. 2012 will see some vendors lick their wounds and try again, but while w e are eager to see Android 4.0 on quad-core tablets with higher resolution displays, Google is already far behind in the race for tablet-specific apps.

Amazon is selling millions of Kindle Fires – and may sell millions more w hen a more polished successor hits the market this year – but Amazon is not even trying to keep up with Apple on the app front. Microsoft looks to have a strong product in Window s 8, but the more attractive ARM tablets won’t run legacy apps, and Microsoft has also spotted Apple a big lead.

LTE comes of age

In 2012, Verizon Wireless will be extending its LTE rollout; with the only nearly-national footprint (to be fully completed in 2013), the carrier’s marketing department should have a field day – I wouldn’t be surprised if the “Can You Hear Me Now?” campaign was revived and updated. AT&T Mobility will be working hard to catch up – its LTE network deployment is well underway.

Consumers at both carriers will benefit from devices using a new generation of LTE chipsets that provide significant improvements over today’s battery-hogging versions; we may well see an LTE iPhone this year.

In the second half of 2012, Sprint Nextel will be attempting the tricky task of squeezing some LTE into its CDMA bands while maintaining CDMA coverage, winding down its iDEN network and potentially adding in spectrum from Clearwire and LightSquared.

T-Mobile USA up for grabs

With the AT&T deal now fully dead, the only know n factor in T-Mobile USA’s future is that Deutsche Telekom doesn’t want it, and that none of its main rivals is likely to try a straight up merger again (at least not unless a more merger-friendly administration is in place).

T-Mobile USA has been losing subscribers, and does not have the spectrum or the capital to roll out its own LTE network. That leaves spectrum sharing partnerships, mergers with satellite companies, or, scariest of all for T-Mobile USA, independence.

The living room goes mobile

The mobile and fixed consumer electronics worlds are on a collision course, and 2012 is when mobile is going start asserting dominance. Mobile ecosystems for content and apps are extending into the digital living room, and mobile devices are going to play an increasingly important role managing, controlling and delivering content to larger displays.

Will carriers figure out how to sell connected devices?

Of the two most successful connected devices, the iPad2 and the Kindle, one isn’t sold by carriers at all, and the other’s pricing model appears to be dictated by Apple (U.S. carriers always deny this, but no other tablets are sold with the same rate structure).

Will this be the year that carriers figure out how to convince mainstream consumers that they should buy devices with 3G and 4G connectivity instead of just Wi-Fi?

Feature phones basically vanish

It’s not that feature phones will vanish entirely, but the vast majority of U.S. consumers do not want to buy them, and postpaid carriers do not want to sell them. There will still be a place in the prepaid segment for feature phones, but even prepaid players in the U.S. are betting big on smartphones to upsell their base and get postpaid switchers.

Chinese vendors arrive in the United States

While Huawei and ZTE already supply a handful of phones to U.S. carriers, they mainly play at the very low end and have had their biggest successes competing on price at regional and prepaid carriers. In subsidized markets, it is awfully difficult to compete on price, as carrier subsidies distort the price that consumers actually see and pay.

However, both of these companies have enormous global ambitions. In fact, late last year Huawei announced plans to be a top five global handset vendor within three years – and the clock is ticking.

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