The top mobile and wireless trends that will emerge in 2007 wouldn't be possible without the two biggest stories of 2006: the advent of the cheap smart phone, and Sprint Nextel's bodacious announcement that it is building a nationwide mobile WiMax network. Before looking ahead, Computerworld US, sister publication to Computerworld Australia, takes a brief look behind.
Toward the end of 2006, a glut of competent smart phones costing US$200 or less hit the market, which is two to three times less expensive than similar phones had been previously. These phones include the BlackBerry Pearl, Samsung's BlackJack, and the Treo 680. This trend will lead to far broader adoption not just of smart phones but also of many applications.
"I have a friend who drives a backhoe -- he's a construction worker -- and he got himself a BlackBerry Pearl," said Derek Kerton, principal of telecommunications consulting firm The Kerton Group. "If I get an SMS message from a friend, chances are it's from him." And that level of communication will increase even more, Kerton predicted, when his friend sets up the device for sending and receiving e-mail.
The other top mobile and wireless story for 2006 was Sprint's announcement that it would build a $3 billion nationwide mobile WiMax network, which it expects to start rolling out by the end of 2007. Sprint will use an enormous chunk of wireless spectrum it inherited when it merged with Nextel in 2005. No other U.S. mobile operator comes close to having that amount of spectrum available, making it highly unlikely that any of Sprint's competitors could launch a competing network.
"The Sprint announcement is the coolest and wildest and most risky gambit we've seen in the wireless industry in quite some time," Kerton said. "They said, 'We have an asset that nobody else has, and if we're successful, we'll have a sustainable advantage that nobody can match for years to come. And if we're wrong, we just bet the farm.' "
Skeptics claim that Sprint's network will fail because it is expensive and redundant with Sprint's existing cellular 3G EV-DO network. Sprint says it's certain that the gamble will pay off, as its network provides fast, cheap nationwide mobile access for laptop computers and a plethora -- it hopes -- of other mobile consumer devices, leaving its EV-DO network for delivering media and other content to cell phones.
These two top stories of 2006 lead us to my predictions of the seven top mobile and wireless trends for 2007. Some of these trends will fully flower in 2007, while in other cases we'll just see the start of a big trend that will develop more fully in years to come.
1. More mobile access, more competition
If Sprint sticks with its schedule, Americans will get a taste of mobile WiMax by the end of 2007. Besides being mobile and nationwide, the network Sprint is promising will be fast and cheap -- at least compared with 3G mobile data service.
But that isn't the only new type of access we'll see in 2007. In the next year, we'll see the launch of a number of major citywide Wi-Fi networks. Philadelphia is, perhaps, building the most discussed of these networks, but about 300 municipalities are reportedly either building or planning to build these sometimes controversial networks.
The bottom line is that these two emerging types of networks will lead to increased mobility, more demand for mobile services and applications and, perhaps best of all, more competition for your mobile access dollar.
If you want mobile data access, you'll no longer be limited to using the services of a cellular operator or hunting for a Wi-Fi hot spot. Providers such as EarthLink and MetroFi will be installing and running the municipal networks, which will make them, at some level, competitors to the cellular operators and even to incumbent telecom operators that provide DSL. That type of increased competition can only be good for both enterprise users and consumers.