Trends in Mobility and UC for 2011
Mobility delivered some big surprises in 2010. Those would include the first 4G smartphones, the launch of LTE-based 4G network service from Verizon, a phenomenal growth spurt for Android, and most importantly, the introduction of the tablet as the new mobile computing platform. That’s a lot to digest, and I think that 2011 will be remembered as a year where we begin to see the mobile world for the next decade beginning to take shape.
Mobile Networks: The 4G upgrade is clearly upon us with Clearwire’s WiMAX and Verizon’s LTE now reaching roughly one-third of the US population. AT&T and T-Mobile haven’t taken the 4G plunge so they are pushing the capabilities of their HSPA+ deployments- which they call “4G”. We prefer the term “Faux G”. Most of the benefit of 4G thus far has gone to laptop users, however, with the growing presence of free or nearly-free Wi-Fi, that will be hard to sustain. In 2011 we will see the arrival of 4G smartphones (more on that below).
The 4G data rates should make all mobile data applications work better, but mobile video will be the most visible addition. While it will be more widely adopted in the consumer market, mobile video will mean that mobile network capacity will continue its struggle to keep up with growing demand. The availability of Skype video for the iPhone will be a challenge to AT&T and now to Verizon as well. AT&T has announced an expansion of their strategy to offload data users onto their Wi-Fi Hot Spots, but there are still only a handful of those “Hot Zone” locations nationwide.
“Price rationalization” will be a key theme this year as carriers have come to realize that you can’t keep offering all-you-can-eat data plans while bandwidth hungry mobile applications are bellying up to the buffet. Even holdouts like Clearwire may have to abandon true unlimited data plans as their subscriber base builds.
What I expect to see is a 3G “backfill” strategy from the mobile operators. As less price conscious users move to 4G, the carriers will begin offering more attractive 3G plans to get more users to upgrade from basic and texting phones to the smartphone experience. Less than 25% of US mobile devices are smartphones today, and that’s a big potential market for the mobile operators.
Mobile Devices: In step with the deployment of 4G networks, 2011 will be the year of the 4G smartphone; the carriers didn’t spend all that money on 4G deployment to support a few laptops. Currently there are only two 4G smartphones on the market and both are for Clearwire’s WiMAX network. A number of 4G smartphones (though no 4G iPhone) were announced at CES; for the moment, 4G is dominated by Android. We can expect at least a dozen 4G models by the end of the year, and probably a 4G iPhone as well.
Tablets will continue to fly off the shelves, and the introduction of Android 3.0 will be the boost that pushes the Android option past the iPAD. Motorola’s Android 3.0-based Xoom won CNET’s best of show at CES. Given their “semi-portable” nature of a tablet, my prediction is that the vast majority of those sold will be Wi-Fi only models, unless the operators come up with a more attractive pricing plans for users with two devices.
The battle among the various mobile device ecosystems will continue. Many have predicted that the availability of a Verizon iPhone will push Apple past Android, but I’m not buying it. There are only so many people who crave the “iPhone experience” and are willing to put up with Apple’s market control obsession. If we have learned anything in mobility it’s that no one product is going to satisfy every user- it’s “different strokes for different folks”. There will be a slight boost in the iPhone share but the bigger change will be the number of AT&T iPhone customers that move to Verizon.
I think that in 2011 we will start to see the market shares among the various mobile ecosystems start to stabilize. While 2010 was all about the phenomenal growth of Android smartphones, in 2011 we will see a similar explosion in Android tablets. The gross numbers won’t be as big because they’ll sell more smartphones than tablets. RIM is in the most vulnerable position with a product line that can only be described as “stogy”, and the Playbook tablet won’t offset the smartphone losses. Further the move to “BYOD” (“Bring Your Own Device”) for enterprise customers will clearly threaten RIM’s dominance in the corporate market. However, don’t underestimate their significant share of the consumer market or their growing international presence.
As the smartphone market shares stabilize, the three leading shares will go to Android, Apple, and RIM. Microsoft’s Phone 7 didn’t show up until late in 2010, so don’t expect it to hit 5%. Of course if it doesn’t show some substantial uptake in 2011, we will start to question how long Microsoft will stay in the game. Some have started to wonder if Mr. Ballmer should stay in the game. Symbian, WebOS, and LiMO will be sharing that “Other” slice of the pie chart with Phone 7.
The one thing that could change that forecast is an end to the app phenomenon. If users start to get the all the same cool stuff through browser-based solutions rather than device-specific apps, a lot of these also-rans could stage a surprise comeback. But that’s not going to happen this year.
Finally, I predict an Android backlash. All of the news about Android has been marvelously positive, so someone (not me) will have to take the naysayer role.
Enterprise Mobility: This will be the toughest area to predict, given the fact that enterprise customers are still taken for granted in the consumer-oriented mobility business. That consumer focus is having an impact on enterprise mobility, where the closed bastion of corporate responsible plans, company provided devices, and stringent policy controls is under fire. Organizations with high security sensitivity (e.g. financial services) still toe that line, but I’m seeing a lot more interest among client for BYOD, employee mobile stipend plans, and mobility policies and management systems that maintain some degree of order in that new environment.
That free-wheeling mobility environment does not bode well for mobile UC. It’s a lot easier to mobilize a UC solution if everyone’s got the same type of smartphone. Now with the user picking (and possibly paying for) their own phone, the IT department is going to have to “sell” users on the benefits of a mobile UC solution. Don’t expect mobile UC applications to catch on like Angry Birds (that’s the hottest iPhone/Android game from Rovio Mobile).
In the meantime, many organizations still haven’t got past the step of looking at mobile devices as anything more than an expense to be monitored and controlled. That mindset fits well with that traditional command-and-control management philosophy, but it still stands as a major obstacle to moving to the next step where we look to use mobility in support of business objectives.
So 2011 will bring 4G smartphones, faster networks, accelerated tablet adoption, and an environment where the market shares begin to gel. While the enterprise will remain the stepchild of mobility, expect to see dozens of really great consumer tricks to “enhance the mobile experience” or just kill time while waiting for the bus.
Organizations should start thinking of where networking is going and how mobile devices fit into those overall directions. Unfortunately we don’t have a lot people in enterprise IT who are truly focused on mobility. We’ve got the bean-counters negotiating plans and managing expenses, but you’re not going to find much in the way of business process improvement talking to that bunch. With little support from the mobile industry, enterprise users are going to have to carve their own way in mobility. We’ve got the tools, but we’re going to need some carpenters.