As we put an eventful 2012 behind us and head into 2013, it's time to gaze into our crystal ball and predict what we can expect to see in the fast-paced telecoms industry in the coming twelve months.
I've identified five key things that I believe the telecoms industry will witness this year.
Data plans more expensive as European operators learn from US
The birth of the long awaited 4G service will, effectively, be the death of 'all you can eat' data. Europe will adopt a similar strategy to the US and begin phasing out unlimited data plans. EE has already kicked this off in the UK by offering no genuine unlimited plans for its 4G network.
Consumers face a tough year ahead as operators will continue to monetise their data plans and play to the tune of the US's pipe. Expect this to have a knock on effect of more people turning to Wi-Fi where possible as an alternative data source.
Voice is fading...time to diversify
Revenue from voice and messaging is in decline. Social media and OTT (over the top) services such as Skype, Rebtel and WhatsApp now offer consumers a cheaper way to chat with friends and family. Industry analysts Ovum claim that in the past two years $23 billion in revenue has been lost by operators as a result of the OTT trend.
2013 will see this tendency continue. With smartphones and tablets becoming embedded in the mainstream, an increasing volume of voice and messaging will be handled by mobile VoIP (voice over internet protocol) and OTT players.
In response, operators will be forced to search for new sources of revenue to replace the money lost from voice traffic. Expect to see operators diversifying more than ever and looking to gain an increasing foothold in areas as diverse as mobile money, data analysis, cloud storage and location based consumer offers.
I would also expect to see more operators look to 'disrupt' themselves and launch their own VoIP services similar to Orange's Libon and Telefonica's TuMe.
The rise of data only operators
The good news for consumers is that 2013 looks set to welcome more data only operators. Recent times have seen the arrival of services such as FreedomPop and Free.fr. These companies offer Wi-Fi on-the-go (users switch only to cellular connection for data when no Wi-Fi is present) and look almost certain to stamp their mark on the industry in 2013.
This is just the beginning and data only operators will continue to crop up and put a great deal of pressure on operators. Cash strapped consumers, feeling the strain of modern data charges, may well be enticed to explore these new disruptors.
If these services can manage to reach out and educate consumers, they could do some serious damage to operator revenues.
Mobile VoIP - One billion users by 2016
Research recently claimed that there would be more than one billion people using VoIP services from their mobiles by 2017. That is probably a conservative estimate. If mobile VoIP continues to accelerate at the speed it currently is, there could be one billion users by 2016.
Nokia share price continues to rise
Nokia is an excellent example of a company embracing change and moving with the times. Last month they unveiled the Lumia 620, which is set to be the cheapest Windows Phone 8 phone yet. Working with Windows 8 has allowed Nokia to offer mobile users Skype and other third party VoIP integration, living up to customers increasing demands and expectations. If products like the Lumia 620 deliver on their promise, Nokia's share price will continues to rise. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if a Nokia and Microsoft merger is on the horizon.
2013 will be a battleground
2013 will be a fascinating year for industry observers, as operators and OTT services fight to create, secure and expand their empires.
One exciting aspect of this fight will be the new and exciting innovations it produces. No doubt many of the gadgets and services we'll be using this time next year aren't even on our radars yet.
For everything we can predict, there will be something we never saw coming. Roll on 2013.
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