Mobile Industry Predictions For 2019

SAP SapphireNOW 2016, Orlando, USA

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

Here we go again. This is the 12th consecutive edition of my mobile industry predictions, originally published in January of 2008. While we try to cover most major aspects of the mobile industry, we do tend to emphasize messaging-related topics as well as consumer engagement. But we also focus on key industry trends such as devices, mobile payments, and blockchain. If a trend begins to fall out of favor, then it may disappear from subsequent predictions. You can get a detailed review and accounting of my 2018 predictions here.

The mobile industry has completely evolved from mobile operators, devices, and services to a significant number of technologies, trends, channels, regulations, and much more. But it is always dynamic and changing.

2019 is already off to an interesting start. Just last week, Apple issued revenue warnings regarding a softer Chinese market for iPhone sales; the FCC is shuttered due to the ongoing government shutdown. FCC Chairman Pai will not speak (again) at CES due to the shutdown – and I write this just a few days into the new year.

As in past years, here are my 2019 mobile industry predictions, in no particular order:

  • Omnichannel mobile messaging will be the key driver to mobile-centric consumer engagement with SMS continuing to lead the way. While we’ve been at SMS-based messaging for many years, it continues to find more growth and use-cases. But we will see more diverse channels, including social/chat apps, and even RCS, make huge strides in functionality. Commercial usage of WhatsApp will surge, but not without some consternation.
  • RCS will more than double its MAU numbers with enterprise / A2P RCS or RCS Business Messaging leading the way. More than 60 countries will have the majority of its mobile operators supporting RCS Business Messaging (e.g. A2P RCS) around GSMA Universal Profile 2.x+. With a global Android smartphone market share of around 80%, RCS will quietly continue to grow; however, it will not displace other business messaging channels but provide an additional and compelling alternative to simple SMS.
  • Apple will surprise in 2019 with new innovations around devices and iOS 13.x. Notwithstanding their realization of the soft market in China and higher prices on new devices, Apple will remain among the top 5 most valuable companies. The Apple ecosystem of devices and services will exceed expectations and grow, but some services will not do well.  Apple Business Chat may be phased out or rethought. I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that by the end of 2019, we’ll have a better understanding of Apple’s plans to support RCS Universal Profile v 2.x+.
  • The T-Mobile and Sprint merger will finally be approved and will complete, creating a very unique mobile operator in the US. This will lead to new pricing models for mobile data with some reductions in data pricing. All three mobile operators (after the merger) will have live 5G networks, but few 5G subscribers. On the flip side, the proposed AT&T merger with Time-Warner will continue to linger in court, but will not be approved by regulators.
  • Chatbots will grow in influence with consumer services being one of the most widely-used solutions. Various chatbot trends indicate that chatbots will soon match human behavior, leveraging AI. These will be provided through messaging apps, as well as voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s SIRI.
  • Subscriber usage of messaging chat apps, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, will grow, but only slightly. WhatsApp may get to 1.6 billion, but no more. In all, messaging chat apps will barely exceed 6 billion Monthly Active Users (MAUs) by the end of 2019. In terms of consumer engagement, several of these have become overwhelmed by spam and thus, their open rate will remain considerably less than the 95% within 3 minutes standard that SMS has set.
  • Authentication using mobile devices will continue to move away from SMS, although SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA) will remain a key method for validating users across a wide variety of use-cases. Alternatives such as soft-token authentication (using mobile apps such as Google Authenticator) will grow in usage as well FIDO Alliance compliant solutions as some higher security requirements come back to external (non-mobile device) tokens (Yubikey, being one of the most common). Alternative solutions around GSMA Mobile Connect and even RCS will begin to make some impact.
  • 5G continues to dominate the news cycles as the industry slowly pivots to the newest generation for mobile data. By the end of 2019, expect 40 telecom operators to make 5G services available to their subscribers (limited or full commercial launches).  For LTE, expect that 775 LTE networks and 300 LTE-Advanced networks will be fully commercial by the end of 2019. For the IoT world, expect over 100 NB-IoT and LTE-M networks to be commercially deployed by mobile operators.
  • Calls for United States regulations to better protect users’ security and privacy will grow. Expect laws like the EU’s GDPR to be proposed and debated by lawmakers, both at the state and federal levels, but we won’t see much implementation in 2019. The mobile industry will have a mixed response, with some indicating that current laws do well to protect consumer privacy and security, while others will support more stringent privacy regulations. Many mobile operators and key app providers will proactively offer better security and privacy assurances to try to circumvent any proposed regulations.
  • Streaming video services from mobile service providers will expand in 2019 with new offerings from Apple, AT&T, T-Mobile USA (either with or without Sprint), which will leverage mobile networks. Expect some of these will offer zero-rated streaming for some mobile data networks. For example, for some networks outside the US, such as Vodafone Australia, offer unmetered video streaming for a monthly surcharge. All of these mobile-centric streaming offers will be the latest attempts to compete with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other video OTT providers.

There will, of course, be numerous industry surprises, that can’t possibly be predicted. Certainly, more mergers and acquisitions, new devices, new operating systems, new networks, new releases, new apps, new standards, new deployments, new regulations, as well as new options for consumers can always be expected. But I also expect 2019 will give us more of the unexpected.

Have a great year!