Mobile Industry Predictions – 2008

Mobile Industry Predictions – 2008

I never think of future, it comes soon enough – Albert Einstein

First things first. Wish you a very happy and successful 2008.

Before we look at what’s to come, let’s do a quick wrap-up of the year that was.

2007 will clearly be remembered as “the year of iPhone.” While there were several other “events/trends of interest” through-out the year, nothing captured the imagination of the world like the iPhone. It was significant for another big reason – it had a profound impact on the business model and ecosystem dynamics. Q4 2007 was also significant for the deafening roar that resonated around “Openness”.

Steve Ballmer exclaimed mobile to be the next battleground while Eric Schmidt pondered why mobile phones are not free (subsidized by Google ads of course).

Google played its chess game effectively and though it is unlikely to play to win the 700 MHz auction or even if they do win would be able to do anything substantive in the short-term, they did, however, with Android and spectrum gambit, force some of the regulation-wary operators to take a stance on openness. Nokia is putting together a brilliant services strategy that looks to connect directly to the consumer. Competition and coopitition will have a different meaning going forward.

Things were looking positive for WiMAX until the end of the year when Clearwire was left standing on its own. It will look towards Google, Sprint, Motorola, and others to rescue its fate.

Mobile Advertising was hailed as a great savior of mobile content and mobile revenues in general. Blyk even launched an advertising-based MVNO. We made significant headway in energizing the sub segment but the tough problems of privacy, education, control, fragmentation, and user experience remain. LBS picked up steam and mobility started to get into the alternate consumer device universe.

In terms of actual dollars, mobile data market continued its steady growth with substantial shifts in revenue towards non-SMS data applications and services. Several operators are doing $2B/quarter+ in data revenues. Several subscription milestones throughout the year: 3B worldwide, 500M China, 250M US, 225M India. 3G continued to inch towards mass-market in western markets (20-25% penetration) while in Korea and Japan, it was getting hard to find people without 3G (70%+ penetration).

Among other events of significance: Cincinnati Bell and T-Mobile launched UMA devices, Motorola lost its Mojo, Amp’D and Disney Mobile shut down, MediaFLO launched, mCommerce initiatives took hold, China continued to delay 3G, WM got updated, Yahoo cemented some impressive operator deals as GYM got more active in mobile, UMPC fizzled, Mobile Web 2.0 got into the industry physce, LTE got embraced worldwide, M&A galored, IP scuffles continued, Muni projects went into coma, and DRM-adorned content became a thing of the past.

2008 will be a pretty eventful year from several perspectives: business models, user experience and expectations, ecosystem posturing, disruption, and friction. How are things going to shape up? What will be hot and what will fade into oblivion? How will competition shape up the new sub-segments? We put some of the questions to our colleagues in the industry. This survey was a bit different in the sense that the movers and shakers (and folks from the companies discussed here) and industry insiders participated. We were able to glean some valuable insights from their choices and comments. Participants (n=196) were folks from across the mobile value chain and from around the world.

Many thanks to everyone who participated.


(click for larger image)

Three names were drawn for a copy of our upcoming book “Mobile Advertising” (co-authored with Joe Herzog and Victor Melfi, John Wiley & Sons, 432 pages, Feb 2008).

The winners are:

  1. David Cushman, Director, Emap

  2. Larry Shapiro, VP, Disney, and

  3. Keith Kostuch, SVP, Alltel

Congrats and Thank you.

Now onto the survey analysis.

Figures above and below summarize the responses. We requested respondents to rate the probability of an event happening in 2008 on a scale 1 to 5. 1 being “Not a chance” to 5 being “100% probability” The figure above summarizes the overall probability of the event happening. The figure below provides the breakdown of responses.


1. Will Google introduce a Google Branded Phone in 2008?

Will it? Won’t it? 44.5% gave it a 75% or higher chance of happening while 40% thought it ain’t happening. GPhone is a temptation Google will find hard to resist though a lot will depend on how various initiatives and partnerships shape-up on the ground. In any case, expect another major announcement in the next 2-3 months.

2. Will Google play to win in the 700MHz Spectrum Auction?

Google has played the spectrum chess game effectively. Almost 50% respondents gave it a 75% or higher chance of Google winning the bid. Though expectations are high, Google is unlikely to play to win. Services business is not their cup of tea, they could still fund the Clearwire-Sprint deal but that investment can be spent differently to get better end-results, i.e. mobile ad revenue.

3. Will Microsoft launch its own mobile phone?

Unless Google comes out with GPhone, Microsoft will stay content with its operator distribution strategy. 63% of respondents gave it less than a 25% chance of Microsoft releasing their own phone. If GPhone comes out and gets some traction, expect Microsoft to get its “fast follower” strategy into high gear.

4. Will Mobile Payments get traction in North America and Western Europe?

Only 9% thought it is a sure bet for 2008. True mobile commerce hasn’t really started in the western world. While there are significant movements, 2008 will just be a “lay the groundwork” year for mobile payments.

5. Will WiMAX regroup from its setbacks?

Only 35% gave it a 75% or higher chance (of WiMAX resurrecting itself esp. in the US in 2008). A lot depends on how Mr. Hesse deals with Sprint’s WiMAX business. Indications are there will be a deal with Clearwire to off-load the risks via some external investment (Google?).

6. Will Helio survive 2008?

Almost 70% respondents thought Helio won’t make it. Given the flameout of some of the prominent new-generation MVNOs, it is hard to see how Helio will see 2009. It will all come down to how persistent is SK Telecom. Earthlink doesn’t have the bank balance to keep funding this initiative.

7. Will Verizon truly open-up its garden for third-party visitations?

Only 5% thought it is a sure bet for 2008. Verizon’s open posturing was more to ward off any regulators and to improve its image. There is unlikely to be any meaningful progress on this front this year.

8. Will 2008 be the inflection year for Mobile Advertising?

42% gave Mobile Advertising a 75% or higher chance for rapid growth. Market will mature, more consolidation, some privacy gaffes but overall things are looking up for mobile advertising.

9. Will Femto-Cells gain any significant momentum in 2008?

It will be an introduction and experimentation year, so no significant traction is expected. Over 52% thought Femto-Cells will be just a buzz word in 2008.

10. Will Nokia be able to extract iPhone-style rev-share from carriers in 2008?

Less than 20% thought Nokia will be able to do an Apple when it comes to rev-share arrangements. For OEMs, going direct to the consumers was considered treachery to the sacrosanct relationship with the operators. Until Apple showed up with iPhone. Now, Nokia is putting its services strategy in motion and is building a direct relationship with the consumers worldwide and it has a good shot at pulling it off though it will be a long haul.

11. Will Palm survive 2008?

Only 8% gave it a 100% chance of surviving 08 as an independent entity. It will be difficult for Palm to stay in a status-quo mode. They desperately need a hit device that can give them some breathing room.  Given all the operational and strategic problems the company is having, a sale is likely.

12. Will iPhone truly open up?

Over 45% thought iPhone won’t open-up in any meaningful way. Apple has built-up one of the most profitable closed empires in the digital world. Are they about open things up? While the iPhone SDK is scheduled for early 08, don’t hold your breath on accessing the critical native APIs.

13. Will there be more unsubsidized devices introduced in the US market in 2008?

Almost 49% thought we are likely to see another unsubsidized device in the US market this year. Nokia is looking to go direct and some GSM handset manufacturers are likely to entertain the idea of testing the market with unsubsidized devices.

14. Will Mobile TV move the needle in 2008?

Almost 70% thought mobile TV won’t make much of a difference in 08.Though AT&T is slated to introduce MediaFLO to join Verizon in the Mobile TV services market, lack of devices and better pricing models will hinder wide adoption in 2008. However, downloadable video and VOD content will experience significant growth.

15. Will Android make a dent in handset shipments in 2008?

Only 15% gave it a more than 75% chance this year. It is going to take some time for Android plans to mature and materialize. Don’t see any material impact in 08.

Of course, 15 questions can’t cover the whole industry. As pointed out our respondents, there are a number of other issues and opportunities that will shape the ecosystem – Rise of Facebook as social networking OS for mobile (social networking as a whole starts to go mobile), LBS beyond navigation, Rev-share shuffles, Chinese OEM start to become prominent in the western world, China and India continue to dominate in net-adds, Mobile device security becomes a nightmare for corporate IT, Consumers wake up to mobile privacy snafus and risks, Will Android spread its tentacles beyond nicheosphere, 3G iPhone, Does China Olympics hold any surprises for the mobile industry? Launch of projection handsets, NFC handsets, IMS .. and much much more ..

All in all, consternation and debate will continue into 2008. We will analyze, dissect, and report as events unfold in the new year.

Look forward to the continuing dialogue and meeting with you in person.

Your feedback is always welcome.

Chetan Sharma