2020 Mobile Industry Predictions

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This was first posted on SAP’s D!gitalist on January 13, 2020.

We just ended the second decade of the 2000s and now look ahead to the 2020s. I expect that the 2020s will not be as roaring as the 1920s were, 100 years ago. But for the mobile industry, we’ve progressed a long way in the last 10 years.

I thought I’d start off the 2020 predictions by looking back at my 2010 prediction article (which is no longer online, unfortunately). Here are a few highlights from those 2010 predictions.

  • In 2010, Apple iPhone will increase and hold its market share with Google Android making inroads. I also noted that these two device operating systems would erode/hurt market share for Nokia, RIM, Palm, and Microsoft Windows mobile devices. With the exception of Nokia, RIM, Palm, and Windows mobile devices are gone from the 2020 marketplace.
  • LTE network production deployments will quickly ramp up. At that time, LTE was just being launched. Now, we’ve moved on to 5G, and LTE is virtually ubiquitous.
  • Netbooks (remember these?) will rapidly decline with the increase of non-handset devices. iPad wasn’t even introduced until April 2010.
  • SMS and MMS traffic will grow, but at a slowing rate. In fact, SMS/MMS traffic peaked globally in the autumn of 2011, but traffic today still numbers in the trillions of annual messages with many markets still strong. Non-SMS chat apps like WhatsApp were just getting going in 2010 (having launched in 2009) and really were not predicted to take the world by storm. We should have known!
  • App stores from Apple and Google will continue to flourish, but many other vertical app stores will suffer and disappear. Today, I don’t think there are many other app stores at all anymore.
  • Social media strategy and mobile strategy will be at the forefront of market strategy for successful enterprises in 2010. Well, as we all know, both social media and mobile have become key outreach channels for enterprises, and that will continue in the 2020s.

There were more, but those are a few of the key predictions. While lots of things have changed, they also stay the same. I even made a prediction about rich communications services (RCS) for 2010; however, none of that came true, as it was the first iteration of RCS, which was a failure. Let’s hope the current rebirth of RCS will be the one that sticks.

Onward to 2020!

Let’s now look forward to the first year of our new decade! Here are my 2020 mobile industry predictions (in no particular order).

  • Let’s start with 5G, which continues to dominate news cycles. By the end of 2020, there will be more than 120 telecom operators worldwide with commercial, 3GPP-standards based 5G networks operational. For LTE, expect that over 800 LTE networks and 350 LTE-Advanced networks will be launched by the end of 2020, along with over 175 NB IoT and LTE-M networks supporting IoT-specific applications.
  • RCS will continue to advance with over 750 monthly active users (MAUs) by the end of 2020 and 30 “gold” countries (meaning 100% of the major mobile operators supporting either P2P or A2P RCS or both). A2P or Business RCS will continue to be a significant catalyst for this channel in 2020, with true commercial enterprise launches in 2020 including significant brands. RCS will continue to be one of the most talked about messaging channels during the year. Google Guest will continue to help build RCS support among operators who haven’t fully launched their services. In the United States, the Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI) will launch with new details about how P2P will interoperate as well as new details for A2P or Business RCS.
  • Speaking of messaging, SMS remains the predominant consumer outreach channel for 2020, even as RCS and WhatsApp begin to provide commercial capabilities across the globe. Social and chat apps will increase slightly in terms of global MAUs – maybe reaching 6.1 MAUs combined. This means that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, specifically, are unlikely to gain many new subscribers. Others, such as Snapchat, Telegram, Line, and WeChat, will grow slightly. SMS will not lose significant ground to social/chat apps during the year and, while RCS makes gains, it will not fully displace any channel … yet.
  • In the United States, the long-suffering T-Mobile/Sprint merger will ultimately be denied by an anti-trust judge, despite being approved by both the US FCC and US Department of Justice; however, that still may not be the end of things. Still, a no-deal decision may lead to further appeals and more. Otherwise, expect little North American consolidation in the MNO market.
  • Communications-Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS) providers will have the best opportunities to offer omnichannel solutions for enterprises in 2020. We’ll see more messaging providers build and launch CPaaS solutions, leveraging both APIs and full solutions for businesses across multiple channels. Diverse, customer-centric channels will be winners for those that can support them – e.g., the right channel at the right time for consumers.
  • The 2020 US election cycle will provide ample opportunities for candidates from both parties to leverage mobile channels, especially using messaging and mobile apps. While not strictly mobile, expect more controversy around social media advertisements, privacy, and usage. We will also see an uptick in spam messages by various groups – many not affiliated with candidates – but simply “groups” as well as trolls. It will make policing this space very difficult – especially as the conventions start and the top candidates advance toward the general election in November.
  • In the handset sector, Apple will once again impress the media and technical reviewers with the latest iPhone series to launch (iPhone 12). Since iPhone 11 was a rather surprising hit, we’ll see even more – possibly a new design that has been rumored. The next iPhone (and iPad) will support common 5G bands around the world. Meanwhile, Android will still remain fragmented (with Version 10 being the latest as of this writing). However, we can expect to see the arrival of new Android releases or significant innovations from Android handset providers. I’ll go out on a limb again and state that Apple will release clear guidance as to its RCS support by the end of 2020.
  • IoT won’t disappoint in 2020, with mobile-network-based IoT devices providing significant mobile operator revenues, more than doubling revenues from 2019 for key MNOs that report such data. For example, in China, revenues for the first six months of 2019 were $747 million, and in the United States, Verizon and AT&T generated over $1.5 billion in 2018. Connected vehicles will also grow substantially in 2020 from their estimated $43 billion in 2019. Finally, there were 26.66 billion IoT devices as of August 2019. By the end of 2020, this will exceed 38 billion IoT devices.
  • Privacy, authentication, and security will remain volatile topics in 2020. Expect more laws and regulations in the US (either individual states or Federal) that will be similar to the EU’s GDPR. Additionally, authentication technology will only slowly evolve as 2FA via SMS remains the most commonly used. Higher security authentication through soft tokens (Google Authenticator and others) as well as Yubikeys will expand. Newer authentication methods such as those under the GSMA Mobile Connect technology umbrella as well as device OEMs will offer better ways for consumers to authenticate their online accounts. Logins via social networks will decline.
  • For mobile apps (both iOS and Android), expect to see more uncovered privacy and security issues in the media. We might even see some popular apps temporarily removed from app stores as their developers rush to fix vulnerabilities as well as privacy invasions. This will be one of the benefits of newer privacy regulations in terms of data sharing. The end result will be the beginning of more transparency and a permission-based ecosystem for mobile.

As in years past, a lot will happen in Q1 2020, when events like CES and Mobile World Congress happen. Otherwise, many of these will happen when they happen. We can always expect events from major players – like Apple, Samsung, and Google – to be well covered and occasionally with surprises. I think in this decade, we’ll see more revenue from some of these big mobile-centric brands come from services vs. devices – especially Apple.

It’s the first year of a new decade. It’s an election year during a volatile time. There’s a lot of pending decisions and growing technologies. It’s going to be exciting!