An Assessment of my 2020 Predictions

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This post first appeared on a Sinch Community site on January 25, 2021.

Once again, it’s prediction time again.  But this post is about how we did last year.  As has been my standard, we look back at last year’s predictions to see how accurate they were.  For 2019, I was 86% correct, which improved on my 2018 forecasts, which were 81.5% correct.

You can see last year’s (2020) Predictions post, which was a milestone in that we looked back 10 years to 2010.  So much happened for the mobile industry between 2010 and 2020, it almost boggles the mind as to how far we’ve come. 

But do recall that my 2020 predictions were written in early January, before COVID-19 and so much more. The world has dramatically changed, but the mobile industry responded and evolved very well and in many ways, kept moving right along. For the tech industry, the pandemic resulted in 10 years of eCommerce growth in the 1st 8 weeks, a 10X growth of telemedicine in 15 days and of course, 250 million US students moving to online learning (Source: CES 2021).  McKinsey reported that COVID-19 is “changing how consumers behave across every aspect of their lives.”  I think that is not an understatement for most people. 

And so, without further delay, let’s look back at how the 2020 predictions fared:

  • 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.
    • 2020 Reality: According to GSA (Global Mobile Suppliers Association), 140 operators launched commercial 3GPP-standards 5G networks in 2020.  As of December 2020, 806 operators have launched commercial LTE networks with 327 operators that have launched LTE-Advanced across 147 countries and territories.  Finally, at the end of 2020, we have 111 deployed NB-IoT networks and 51 launched LTE-M networks for a total of 162, just shy of our 175-count prediction. So overall, a good prediction.  90% correct.
  • RCS (Rich Communications Services) will continue to advance with over 750 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 how P2P will interop as well as new details for A2P or Business RCS.
    • 2020 Reality: RCS was poised at the beginning of 2020 to make some excellent progress, but many in the industry believe that the COVID-19 severely interrupted progress.  GSMA at the end of 2020 reports just over 500 million MAUs, well short of the 750 m MAU prediction. Gold countries (100% coverage) was also less than the 30 predicted.  CCMI in the United States has been quite during the entire year and has not launched anything. Google Guest did continue to build RCS support among operators in a number of countries, including Mexico, India and others.  30% correct.
  • 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/Chat Apps will only increase slightly in terms of global MAUs – maybe reaching 6.1 MAUs, combined. This means that WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, specifically will likely not gain many new subscribers.  Others such as Snapchat, Telegram, Line, and WeChat will only grow slightly. SMS will not lose significant ground to social/chat apps during the year and while RCS makes gains, it does not fully displace any channel … yet.
    • 2020 Reality: SMS did continue to be the predominant consumer messaging channel for 2020.  Even P2P SMS saw significant spikes in in March, along with some social chat/apps due to the early COVID-19 lockdowns. Also, as we noted back in late March, all messaging channels became a conduit for commerce and engagement during the early months of the pandemic. In 2020, we saw Snapchat increase to an estimated 433 millon MAUs, along with a 50 million MAU increase for WeChat as well as increases in Telegram and LINE. Overall, our count of social/chat apps shows we’re around 6.7 billion MAUs combined verses around 4.5 billion MAUs for SMS. 80% correct due to underestimation of social/chat app MAUs.
  • 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.
    • 2020 Reality:  Despite the pandemic; despite everything, the T-Mobile/Sprint merger did finally go through. I did say though that “that still may not be the end of things” (gave myself somewhat of an out.).  But after a long approval process, the new T-Mobile was born and announced in April 2020.  The Sprint brand was discontinued on August 2, 2020.   Only 20% correct.
  • CPaaS or Communications-Platform-as-a-Service providers will have the best opportunities to offer omni-channel 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.
    •  2020 Reality: In 2020, more than ever, messaging providers started promoting and launching CPaaS services as these offer omni-channel solutions that businesses need in today’s marketplace.  Certainly, SAP Digital Interconnect (now acquired by and integrated into Sinch) and Sinch promoted CPaaS, adding their capabilities to a strong market that already included Twilio and Vonage.  Virtually every major messaging provider is now offering CPaaS capabilities. 100% Correct.
  • The 2020 US election cycle will provide ample opportunities for candidates from both parties to leverage the 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.
    • 2020 Reality:  Wow! That prediction was quite the understatement. All candidates had mobile apps, mobile outreach, including SMS messaging. Spam messaging really took off in October and November.  Unquestionably, social media played huge roles in the election from Facebook to Parler to Twitter. Of course, we all know what happened on Jan 6th, 2021 and the ramifications of the incendiary posts on all platforms. Mobile channels and usage were central to this election cycle and will likely continue to be.  As Flurry reports, mobile app new consumption explodes as a result of the 2020 presidential election.  100% Correct.
  • 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 which 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 [no dessert] being the latest as of this writing) but expect new Android releases or any huge innovation among 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.
    • 2020 Reality:  The iPhone 12 was announced on 13 October 2020 with the first availability on October 23rd, with the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro following later in the year. iPhone 12 supported up to 20 5G Bands (depending on your region), which was more than any other mobile device to date.  Android did release version 11 in September 2020; however, there were a few interesting features, but nothing groundbreaking. Finally, and I blame the pandemic for this, Apple did NOT announce any clear guidance as to whether or not it would support RCS. To date, it is not natively supported.  Because of that, 70% correct.
  • 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 6 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.
    • 2020 Reality: The COVID-19 affected IoT considerably in 2020.  GSMA Intelligence reduced IoT revenue forecasts for 2020 – 2025 -up to 19% for some years.  They indicated revenues would be down 9% from their original forecasts. Consequently, we will not have “doubling revenues” based on IoT devices providing mobile operator revenues.  In terms of IoT devices in 2020, several sources indicate we had around 30 billion devices by the end of the year, under our prediction of 38 billion.  Despite COVID related manufacturing shutdowns in 2020, marketsandmarkets estimates  the connected car market to be around $53.9 billion.  30% Correct – quite a miss for this segment.
  • 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. Login via social networks will decline.
    • 2020 Reality: The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) of 2018 went into effect in January 2020 and was amended by the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (CPRA) which was approved in November 2020. CPRA will go into effect in January 2023. CCPA does have implications for text messaging as many of us in the messaging industry have noted.  Remote work due to the pandemic heightened the need for better online user validation. Companies like Yubico (makers of Yubikey products) did well, as online security concerns increased.  At the end of 2020, the GSMA noted 70 operators supported GSMA Mobile Connect. In November, the 4 UK MNOs, launched Number Verify (which is also PSD2 SCA compliant) by verifying customers through matching phone numbers.  100% Correct.
  • 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.
    • 2020 Reality: The biggest mobile privacy story was the Apple vs. Facebook story. Basically Apple planned to change iOS 14 to make it difficult for advertisers to track users. In late August, Facebook noted that this would limit the personalized targeting that Facebook does, which helps make it valuable to advertisers. In late 2020, the EU proposed the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA). While throughout the year, there were some notable apps removed from App stores, these were not due to vulnerabilities, but combinations of conflicts based on payments, as well as content.  Obviously, as 2021 starts, content moderation of some mobile apps and online communities will play bigger roles.  Overall, for this prediction: 90% correct.

As you can see, the uncertainty from pandemic did affect many of my predictions.  While messaging and the mobile industry overall became a major conduit for information, some messaging channels did not thrive, such as RCS.  RCS will continue to evolve and expand, but not as fast as it would have.  SMS; however, did quite well.  

I expect 2021 to have a great deal of fallout from 2020.  But how did we do with the 2020 predictions?  71% correct – not one of my better years in terms of prediction accuracy (2019 was 86% correct)..  So we’ll leave it there as we should leave 2020. 

Here are my 2021 Mobile Industry Predictions.