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2010: The year of Google
|16 декабря 2009|
In thinking about 2010, I believe 2009 will be viewed as an important transition year. By that, I mean there was nothing ground-breakingly new--it was in 2008 that we saw the introduction of the iPhone 3G, iTunes App Store, the Amazon Kindle e-reader, netbook, and the first Android device.
In many respects, 2009 was an outgrowth of these developments: more smartphones, e-readers, netbooks, and app stores, all leading to exponential data traffic growth. There was no further consolidation in the operator space, no major reduction in voice or data pricing, and despite a lot of posturing, no major changes yet from the new FCC. Except for the expected downtick in global handset sales, the industry more than held its own in an otherwise challenging economy.
But lest you interpret my view of 2009 as "boring," two recent developments signal where we're headed: First, was Cisco's $2.9 billion acquisition of Starent, which both reflects the growth trajectory for data and ensures that traditional internet backbone players will play a greater role in the next stage of wireless networks. Second, was Google's $750 million acquisition of AdMob. This, when combined with the near daily news of some development related to Google's mobile initiatives (look at just last week alone!), shows how the balance of power in this industry is starting to shift.
Building on these, here are six key themes for 2010.
1. Urgency around network capacity, economics
We all know the stresses that data traffic growth is putting on wireless network capacity. Another developing issue is the profitability of services, where some devices are averaging 500 MB-1GB per month of usage. I believe this will lead to the following:
Robust capex spending. All of the major operators are in the midst of a 3G+ (HSPA+, etc) or 4G deployment, in a race to both keep up with current demand, capacity plan for the future, and reduce the cost per bit delivered.
Fast-track for more spectrum. This might be combined with some sort of "deal" on network neutrality.
New approaches to data pricing. We might see DSL-esque options (good-better-best), and some experimentation with usage-based pricing. I also think network consumption might be more reflected in content and app store pricing, in a similar way to how iTunes charges a premium for the "HD" version of TV shows and movies.
Innovation in infrastructure. There will be a greater diversity of lower cost backhaul solutions. You will also be hearing more about innovations in MIMO antenna configurations, which will deliver greater range and capacity out of current sites.
2. WiFi, femto make a comeback
Three years ago, WiFi was viewed as a threat to mobile operators' data aspirations. Now it's a lifeline. Expect nearly every smartphone to be equipped with WiFi, going forward. Mobile operators will develop more partnerships with WiFi providers, and WiFi "hotspots" will become a part of a carrier's data "offerings," with incentives to use WiFi networks, where available.
As for the femtocell, those who proclaim this market "dead" because not that many femtocells have been sold to date are viewing the market through its first iteration prism of "in-building coverage solution." I see the femto market to be positioned more as a broad-based "network gateway" solution for the office and home, playing a critical role in adjudicating how traffic flows across various networks and devices.
3. Year of Google
Here's a provocative statement: Google has accomplished more in wireless in the past year than Microsoft has in the past five years combined. It's hard to sum up what Google is doing in a neat paragraph, save to say that it is playing in nearly every key aspect of mobile: search, advertising, operating systems, apps marketplace, mobile-centric products/services, (location, commerce, video, voice, to name a few), and even devices. Google is re-defining the co-opetition model in wireless.
Two broad-based aspects of Google's strategy could start to have more far-reaching implications in 2010. One, is that despite its adherence to "open," it is also making more of a vertical integration play, with the rumored Google phone and deeper incursions than even Apple into the services stack. Second, it is one of the key players in a more "cloud-based" approach to mobile (see next point).
4. Mobile and the cloud
The evolution toward cloud-based services will be one of the transformative elements of our industry over the next three to five years. It has the potential to propel sales of a range of new devices, improve the economics of data, address power consumption, and reduce the complexity of our "multi-screen" world. But there's still lots to be sorted out, as far as mobile is concerned. For example, how will cloud-based services and apps work in "off-line" mode? And while Internet heavyweights such as Amazon will surely play a role, I believe cloud services represent an important strategic opportunity for the operators--after all, they own significant network, storage, billing, and customer information assets.
5. Important year for mobile advertising
Despite the lofty purchase price for AdMob, mobile remains a rounding error in most brands' ad budgets. I think 2010 is when it starts to get real. First, we are crossing important thresholds with respect to the installed base of smartphones and devices with good HTML rendering. We don't see pushback from customers presented with ads on devices with a good UI. I also think we're going to move toward more of a TV/Internet model for mobile advertising, with some aspect of free or reduced price content in return for willingness to view ads, and perhaps willingness to allow some information to be shared in order to deliver more targeted, contextually relevant ads. Also, expect one or two more acquisitions by big Internet players (Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Amazon) of the leading mobile ad network players (Quattro Wireless, Jumptap, Millennial).
6. Lots of activity in imaging
We're entering the third phase of imaging in mobile. Phase one was the proliferation of camera phones. Phase two was finding ways to more effectively get pictures and videos from phones onto photo share sites and social networking platforms. With good quality cameras and even video now on phones, there's huge potential to do more. Some areas to keep your eyes on:
- Greater focus on image quality (and it's not just about megapixel count)
Improved video recording, quality, and file compression, as we see a morphing of the Flip and the phone.
Search, advertising, and commerce opportunities. Goggles, announced last week, is an important example. Images captured from camera phones will be used to deliver product information, targeted ads, and coupons. We're also in the early stage of bar code/QR code capture--an area that has developed rapidly in Japan and South Korea but has lagged here.
In sum, 2009 was a year where development occurred along many of the tracks that were laid in 2008. I believe that in 2010, we will see far more transformative and disruptive developments.
Mark Lowenstein, Managing Director of Mobile Ecosystem