A Review Of The 2018 Mobile Industry Predictions

This post first appeared on D!gitalist on January 10, 2019.

In the mobile industry, 2018 certainly did not disappoint in terms of trending activity. The T-Mobile acquisition of Sprint (still pending as of this writing), 5G, IoT, rich communications services (RCS), and network neutrality were dominant themes throughout the year.

In my opinion, 5G was overhyped. Blockchain technology made some headlines. Mobile payments (such as Android Pay and Apple Pay, among others), continued to gain prominence. Digital transformation, a rather ethereal term that describes the transformation of enterprises to digital channels and solutions, has been a frequent topic, with mobile capabilities being the most prevalent. Online security and hacking attacks continued to dominate news cycles with two-factor authentication failures (or the failure to use it) at the center of several of them.

As I do every year, I reviewed last year’s predictions to see how our prognostications fared. In the 2017 predictions, only 61% were correct, but for 2016 predictions, we were 83% correct, and 82% correct for 2015 predictions. Our predictions for 2018 are reviewed below.

Prediction #1

Mobile messaging continues its dominance as the primary engagement tool for businesses to interact with consumers.

SMS will continue to lead and surpass 2017 volumes. Messaging media usage will increase, including Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and others. For the first time, application to person (A2P) RCS will launch commercial services with key brands and businesses interacting with consumers through RCS.

2018 reality: Indeed, mobile messaging – especially through SMS – continues to be one of the primary mobile consumer-engagement channels available to brands and enterprises. But today, savvy brands are expanding that engagement to multiple messaging channels such as Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp is now trialing business messaging capabilities with a handful of messaging providers and should provide a tremendous market as it includes more messaging partners. Several brands, including Subway and clothing provider Express, did launch commercially available engagements through RCS on networks where business (e.g., A2P) RCS was active with very positive results.

Grade: 100% correct

Prediction #2

2018 will be the year that RCS returns, specifically optimized for A2P (or enterprise/business/brand engagement).

While person-to-person (P2P) RCS will grow, the biggest impact will be consumer interaction. Most will be through AI-assisted chatbots. By the end of 2018, there will be between 500 and 700 million monthly active users (MAUs) using RCS globally, starting to rival non-SMS messaging apps. This number will be higher if Apple iMessage supports RCS Universal Profile. 2018 may be the beginning of the end for many mobile apps as users discover that conversation interfaces work as well as, or better than, mobile apps with similar functionality.

2018 reality: I fell a bit short on this prediction. Last year, the GSMA was overconfident in the number of mobile operators that would be supporting RCS. As of late November 2018, there were 194 million MAUs of RCS across 65 launched networks, according to the GSMA. iMessage did not support RCS Universal Profile, although rumors persist that it might in the coming years – especially if you listen to the GSMA. RCS is certainly gaining ground with numerous commercially launched brands including Subway, clothing retailer Express, Virgin Trains UK, and many others. Google Rich Business Messaging, Samsung, and Vodafone Group all have launched messaging-as-a-platform APIs that are commercially available with mobile operators.

Grade: 50% correct

Prediction #3

Apple will grow its worldwide iOS market share, building on the success of the iPhone X.

New iPhones in 2018 will leverage the new technology and capabilities introduced in iPhone X. Expect more enhancements to iMessage and improved LTE Advanced capabilities for more networks globally. 2017 revelations around battery slowdown issues ultimately won’t have much effect. Apple Watch will continue dominance in wearables, increasing its share to almost 30%.

2018 reality: Certainly, iPhone X, as well as great iPhones 7 and 8, did well throughout 2018, followed later in the year with the release of new iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR as well as the Apple Watch Series 4. Both the iPhone XS and XS Max support 4×4 MIMO, which supports Gigabit LTE. The XR supports 2×2 MIMO for LTE Advanced, also found on the iPhone X and 8. Per statistics publisher StatCounter, iOS worldwide market share was 19.91% in Dec 2017. By Dec 2018, it had grown to 21.98%, having peaked at 24.44%. In North America, iOS devices surpassed Android devices in October with 51%, peaking at 57% in November, and finishing 2018 at 52% market share for December. While Fitbit has been hot, Apple currently has a 30% share of the smartwatch segment.

Grade: 100% correct

Prediction #4

Apple HomePod will launch with innovative capabilities, enabling close integration with Apple mobile devices that Amazon Echo and Google Home will not have.

HomePod won’t overtake Amazon or Google, but will become the genesis of a new class of personal digital assistant that will grow in influence.

2018 reality: Apple HomePod did launch in 2018 with decent reviews – especially around speaker quality. As of Q3 2018, it commanded around 4.8% market share. HomePod is best for people who are heavily integrated to Apple products. While (so far), it has limited third-party apps, if users are strongly integrated with other Apple products, HomePod works well. But for now, it is only another personal smart speaker (with Siri). I will have to call this a miss, although not a complete miss.

Grade: 30% correct

Prediction #5

Authentication leveraging mobile solutions will gain more visibility and usage by global consumers.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) over SMS will continue as the most-used solution by consumers, followed by 2FA via mobile apps. Mobile operators will close security vulnerabilities around SMS. Biometric authentication will grow in prominence.

2018 reality: SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA) continued to dominate as the most used solution in all areas where authentication is important; however, several high-profile data breaches have occurred based on SIM fraud, whereby a SIM card is fraudulently obtained to target and intercept 2FA codes over the victim’s SMS. Time-based one-time password (TOTP) or soft-token technology such as Google Authenticator continued to gain prominence. In fact, in October, the US government began rolling out 2FA, based on the usage of Google Authenticator, for all federal agencies’ administrative accounts. Around the world, more mobile operators were putting in procedures to block SIM fraud as well as SMS interception via SS7 through a number of network methods including home routing of SMS traffic. Finally, many of the new smartphones on the market in 2018 employed facial recognition or fingerprint identification, which is easily leveraged as an authentication factor.

Grade: 100% correct

Prediction #6

Developer-centric API solutions for mobile channels will increase usage – especially in messaging engagement, fueling mobile messaging as a medium for customer engagement.

Self-service by developers and non-developers in messaging – and even chatbot solutions – will bring mobile channels to more businesses, quicker and easier.

2018 reality: Many, if not most of the developer-centric API solutions for mobile channels are now provided by a handful of communications platform as a service (CPaaS) providers. IDC suggests that this will grow from $2 billion in 2017 to $10.9 billion in 2022. While SMS (and voice to an extent) has become commoditized, multi- or omnichannel messaging continues to grow with APIs supporting multiple messaging options – including Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WeChat, and even WhatsApp, in addition to many more. Chatbots are becoming mainstream and enabling enterprises to offer even more functionality in the messaging domain. IDC also noted that the next stage of CPaaS (they call it CPaaS 3.0) “brings APIs to a new layer of knowledge workers beyond developers.”

Grade: 100% correct

Prediction #7

Expect over 750 commercially deployed LTE networks, over 300 LTE Advanced commercially deployed networks, and over 50 5G commercially deployed networks.

The GSA noted that 2018 should see over 3 billion LTE subscriptions. At the end of 2017, there were 116 mobile operators “investing in pre-standards 5G networks.” Many will provide fixed wireless solutions and some specialty solutions. I doubt that we’ll see many mobile handsets supporting 5G; that will likely come to fruition in 2019 and beyond.

2018 reality: GSA reported that, by the end of November 2018, there were 745 commercially deployed LTE networks and 281 LTE Advanced networks, making this prediction over 90% accurate for both types of networks. The Ericsson Mobility reported as of Q3 2018 there were 3.3 billion LTE subscriptions. In terms of 5G, as of December 2018, only a handful of networks were commercially launched including in October with Verizon Wireless 5G Home service. GSA also noted that another six networks were deployed on a limited basis. AT&T did launch a 3GPP compatible service on millimeter wave spectrum at the end of December (branded 5G e).

Grade: 85% correct (we overstated that prediction somewhat)

Prediction 8

The U.S. network neutrality debate is not over. There will be legal and legislative challenges to the December 2017 repeal of various FCC regulations around network neutrality.

This is a politically charged issue. Most Americans, as well as technology giants, supported the network neutrality provisions, but many mobile operators wanted them repealed. Expect confusion, but little negative consumer-facing activity by mobile operators and ISPs because of less regulation. Most people won’t notice accessibility changes.

2018 reality: As expected, Tom Wheeler’s (the previous FCC chairman, before Ajit Pai) era of network neutrality ended on June 11, 2018. It lasted from 2015 to 2018 and barred broadband providers from slowing or blocking access to the Internet or charging companies higher fees for access. As expected, there is still lots of confusion, legal challenges, positioning in Congress, and more. Both Washington and California passed their own state laws that specifically provide for an open Internet – very similar to the 2015 law and other provisions, but they never took effect and may not due to legal challenges. But, in reality, no one’s accessibility really changed. Expect more debate in 2019.

Grade: 100% correct

Prediction #9

Mobile-network connected IoT devices will continue to dominate the IoT space as industries rush to provide mobile-connected sensors.

This will be especially important to asset-tracking across industries, especially those where movable assets must be tracked and maintained. Interestingly, these mobile-network connected sensors will primarily use existing networks. Companies providing IoT solutions will benefit by providing Big Data mining, tracking, and maintenance capabilities to manage and process asset data from millions of connected sensors. IoT activities across industrial and consumer-focused solutions will increase substantially.

2018 reality: The number of mobile-network IoT connections for 2018 was estimated around 1 billion – but it has not dominated. Most of these are industrial/enterprise connections. An Ericsson report also notes that there were 1.1 billion wide-area IoT connections, but 7.5 billion short-range IoT connections (mainly ZigBee, Z-Wave, etc.) that are commonly used in consumer IoT devices. Certainly, “cellular” connections were across the technologies (3G, LTE, NB-IoT, and even older 2G). IoT Analytics found that overall IoT connections surged in Q1/Q2 2018 to over 7 billion connected devices – mainly consumer devices. IoT Analytics also noted that IoT software, cloud, and service companies far exceeded revenue expectations.

Grade: 80% correct (mobile-connected IoT devices did not dominate the space in 2018, but the other predictions were quite close)

Prediction #10

Blockchain (per Gartner, still in the Peak of Inflated Expectations) will be coupled with mobile platforms and applications to provide innovative solutions for finance, security, and mobile wallet/loyalty programs. 

Going beyond mobile-based cryptocurrency wallets and apps, mobile devices can be used as blockchain nodes that can store a variety of secure transactions. Innovations will demonstrate that mobile devices can be excellent for blockchain-based solutions, which can be as easy as downloading a specific app for consumers.

2018 reality: To be honest, while there as a great deal of talk and positioning of blockchain, there are no real, mainstream products that leverage blockchain as a security innovation – especially in mobile. Startups and well-known mobile-industry actors all have some “blockchain program” going on covering just about any use case. At the beginning of December, Vodafone, Ericsson, Huawei, Telefonica, and Intel launched an industry blockchain group under ETSI. But blockchain, also known as distributed ledger technology (DLT), does have some real-world applications. Earlier in 2018, the Indian telecom regulator TRAI issued a draft of regulations that require DLT to help combat spam calls.

Grade: 70% (the prediction was partially correct)

My last word on 2018 mobile predictions

And there you have it. Now all that’s left is to total up and see how the 2018 predictions fared. So, for 2018, my score is 81.5% correct. This is quite an improvement from last year’s 61% and more in line with previous years’ scores. Of course, I endeavor to try to be as objective as possible, but I can’t say that my scores are totally without bias.

For more predictions, check out my 12th annual consecutive mobile industry predictions for 2019.