And Just Like That: It’s the 2022 Mobile Industry Predictions with a 2021 Assessment

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As we’ve done for the past years, I am happy to offer my 2022 mobile industry predictions along with a somewhat objective (or subjective in that I wrote them!) assessment of the previous years’ projections for this dynamic industry.  Here we are once again.  This year will be my 15th consecutive year of predictions and assessments.

2021 was, quite honestly, a different chapter of all the events that started in 2020.  But things have changed and are continuing to change.  Many times, for the better, but for the worse in other cases.  The mobile industry has gone through a number of changes and despite everything, continues to evolve with the times as we would expect. For one, the mobile industry responded well to the pandemic and continued to offer a platform for people to communicate, grow, and access information. But the industry certainly changed.

For this year, I’m returning to a single post with both the previous year assessment, followed by predictions.  If you want to skip to my 2022 Predictions, click or tap here!

A Review of 2021

As we do each year, let’s take a look at my 2021 predictions and see how they fared.  Last year, I only managed 71% correct for 2020 after a stellar 2019 with 86% correct.  You can look at other prediction assessments, and see how I did in preceding years, if you’re so inclined.

As I previously noted, 2021 was, for many, a continuation of 2020, as the pandemic dominated the news and people’s lives.  Yet, our mobile industry continued to evolve and progress as our 2021 assessment will show.  As always, I do try to be as objective as possible, but given that I also wrote these predictions, expect some subjectivity as well.

1 — In the mobile handset world, expect an iPhone 12S (not iPhone 13) this year.  It will support the same set of 5G bands as did the iPhone 12 that was released at the end of 2020.  The iPhone 12S will return to fingerprint validation, but in addition to facial recognition. This will further help as we are likely to wear masks for the foreseeable future. Expect to see an iOS 15 rollout this year as well.  Standards based RCS (Universal Profile) iOS support will not be forthcoming in 2021. Finally, expect Android 12 to be release in 2021 with new features for more phones. Additionally, this release will incorporate capabilities so major new, annual releases won’t be necessary.

2021 Reality:  I was wrong here. Apple did release the iPhone 13 with new 5G bands and no return to fingerprint recognition to compensate for increased mask usage.  Instead, for users with Apple Watches, a new method to unlock the phone with the watch was introduced.  iOS 15 did roll out as expected with many new features, prior to the iPhone 13. Not surprisingly, RCS was, once again, not supported in iOS.   Android 12 was released on October 4, 2021 with a significant number of features, including expanded user personalization, UI redesign, and privacy, among many others. This initially launched on Google Pixel phones with more support coming in 2022.  Let’s call this 60% correct.

2 — SMS Messaging will continue to be the go-to and default messaging channel for enterprises and businesses. Expect a nominal increase (10-15%) in terms of A2P messaging volumes as more SMBs leverage this channel. In 2020, we saw some temporary P2P SMS increases in some markets such as the United States. For 2021, we’ll go back to a more steady-state to slight decline – especially for markets such as the United States.

2021 Reality:  According to Mobilesquared, business (e.g. A2P) SMS usage did increase 3.1% in 2021, but not as much as the previous year. In terms of P2P, overall our records show a modest 2% decline in over traffic from the previous year.  60% correct due to miss on A2P / business messaging SMS growth.

3 — While 2020 was not particularly kind to RCS (it did not achieve even three-quarters of a billion MAUs), as well as impacts from the pandemic.  For 2021, expect to see 800 million MAUs of RCS with at least 40 countries with all operators supporting (e.g. gold countries). While Google has made some moves to confuse the marketplace, we will continue to see steady adoption by enterprises and brands.  No Apple support for RCS in 2021 either.  In the United States, expect some impact from the CCMI group; however, this group’s influence has waned, somewhat.

2021 Reality:  According to the analyst firm, Mobilesquared, RCS was on a roll in 2021. There were 1.014 billion RCS unique mobile users, growing 81.5% in 2021[1]. Of course, RCS is all Android, as there was no Apple support for the RCS standard once again. In the United States, all the major operators are now supporting Google Messages for RCS as in April, the CCMI joint-venture was disbanded, ending an unproductive diversion to progress for this channel. Calling this 90% correct.

4 — Social/Chat App Messaging will see considerable changes for 2021.  While WhatsApp will still lead as channel, it will lose some subscribers / MAUs to other chat apps (e.g. Telegram or even SMS), due to Facebook’s announcement that they may share WhatsApp user information with Facebook and Instagram. As of early January, Telegram reported 500 million active users. For 2021, I’ll predict that Telegram grows the fastest, reaching over 800 million active users by the end of the year. This will also negatively impact Facebook Messenger. Because of the “rush” to other channels, we’ll see continuing controversy and even moderation of groups on some channels to actually increase, in order to avoid government regulation.

2021 Reality: Outside of SMS, WhatsApp did continue to lead as a P2P and Business Messaging channel; however, despite their early 2021 update on terms and privacy policy, it is unlikely that an appreciable number of subscribers left. All online estimates still put their MAUs at around 2 billion – not a huge change. Still Telegram and Signal have benefited. In October, Telegram’s CEO noted that Telegram added 70 million users as a result of WhatsApp’s October outage. Outside of RCS growth, Telegram was the fastest growing Social/Chat App, growing 79.1% per Mobilesquared, reaching over 890 million messaging users. Of course Facebook’s actions also lead to significant scrutiny by governments around the world calling for both more and less content monitoring, depending on one’s point of view. There’s even anti-trust talk that could result in the break-up of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp (now all under Meta).  100% Correct.

5 — Mobile messaging has been the 2nd cornerstone of business outreach, along with mobile apps.  The Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) companies are leveraging this interest for some years. For 2021, we can forecast that all of the top 5 public messaging companies will have a CPaaS offer that is central to their revenue, with SMS messaging still the number one channel.  There’s lots of interest in omnichannel solutions (including chat apps and voice), but SMS will continue to prevail with these companies.              

2021 Reality: CPaaS for messaging providers has become a “must-have” capability to serve the modern enterprise. Per the recent IDC MarketScape Worldwide Communications Platform as a Service 2021 Vendor Assessment: “Despite the hype and excitement generated by the rapidly growing CPaaS segment, new entrants standing up and hosting a few SMS and voice APIs do not guarantee automatic success.  CPaaS platforms require deep internetworking with carriers and distributed IP and cloud assets to deliver quality voice calls and messages. The top 5 public messaging companies listed in the IDC CPaaS report:  Sinch, Twilio, Bandwidth, Infobip and Vonage are all public companies that are identified as CPaaS Leaders. Additionally, reviewing each shows that each one, while supporting multiple messaging channels, still view SMS as the predominant channel.  100% Correct.

6 — 5G will continue its rollout, globally. We will see more than 200 mobile networks in over 80 countries launch commercial 5G services.  For LTE, that will increase to over 830 mobile networks and over 375 LTE-Advanced networks.  In the United States, which is currently behind in mid-band spectrum usage (3-24 GHz just now auctioning), expect some initial mid-band rollouts before the end of the year by US carriers.  Finally, we mustn’t forget IoT specific networks, so look for over 150 NB-IoT networks and 75 LTE-M networks.

2021 Reality: According to Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), by the end of December 2021, there were 200 operators in 78 countries that had launched one or more 3GPP-compliant 5G services with 5 operators that had announced soft-launches not included in the 200 operators. As GSA notes, 5G grabs headlines, but LTE still dominates global mobile telecom. There were 791 commercially launched LTE networks by the end of 2021 (a net growth of 9 operators for 2021 – a bit less than I had forecast) with 336 LTE-Advanced networks launched . For NB-IoT there were 122 networks which have launched services and 54 who have launched LTE-M networks. Due to acquisition, failure, or market withdrawal, the 2021 totals are somewhat less than what we expected, but still good. In the United States, the big carriers were just beginning to launch some mid-band spectrum. T-Mobile deployed services in the 2.5 GHz (NR Band 41) spectrum while Verizon and AT&T were not able to deploy services in their C-Band network due to issues arising between the Federal Aviation Administration and operators regarding potential interference of avionics in aircraft I overestimated most of the network launches, but not by far on the ones that count: 75% correct.

7 — The mobile Industry consolidation and acquisitions that we saw in 2020 (such as T-Mobile acquiring Sprint, as well as SAP Digital Interconnect being acquired by Sinch; OpenMarket by Infobip, among others) will continue into 2021. Expect additional M&A among messaging / CPaaS providers as this industry segment is quite active. We may also see some unexpected acquisitions of mobile business players (messaging, apps) by companies, previously unaffiliated with the mobile industry.

2021 Reality. Wow! This was the year for mergers and acquisitions in the mobile industry – especially mobile services, CPaaS providers.  Sinch, who I work for, acquired and closed acquisitions of Inteliquent, MessageMedia, MessengerPeople, and Pathwire (Mailgun & Mailjet). Not to be outdone, Twilio went and acquired Zipwhip. Infobip acquired Peerless Networks, their 2nd strategic acquisition to better compete in voice.  Toll-free administrator & solutions provider Somos acquired XConnect a global provider of telephone number information services. Kaleyra acquired the long-time enterprise messaging provider mGage and Italian cloud-based audio/video communications provider Bandyer. Later in 2021, Vonage was acquired by Ericsson. Additionally, Verizon closed its acquisitions of both Tracfone and Bluegrass Cellular in 2021. There was certainly much more M&A activity among mobile operators, as each year MNOs and MNO groups acquire many strategic companies to help them with cloud services, security, and more. I’m not aware of any companies that were unaffiliated with the mobile industry acquiring messaging/CPaaS companies in 2021, so a slight miss here.  95% Correct.

8 — Authentication, Identity, and Privacy remain at the forefront of consumers (and businesses, alike) for their digital presence. Consequently, we’ll continue to see two-factor authentication (2FA) continue as the primary means to validate users beyond user-id and passwords.  SMS based 2FA will continue to be the primary means of 2FA, followed by TOTP-based 2FA solutions (e.g., Google Authenticator and others). Some passwordless validation solutions will pick up momentum but won’t be mainstream yet. Finally, we will see further validation options leveraging mobile operator data, based on the GSMA Mobile Connect features; however, country coverage will remain limited.

2021 Reality.  Of all of the multi-factor authentication solutions, 2FA via SMS continues to be the most used authentication method, according to the 2021 State of the Auth Report from Duo. This is followed by 2FA to email, followed by “mobile passcode” (as Duo defines it), which is really TOTP-based 2FA solutions.  More data-based verification solutions started coming to market in 2021 that overcome social engineering and provide a seamless user experience. The GSMA Mobile Connect initiative notes that 70 mobile operators around the world now support Mobile Connect and variations continue to evolve how validation and identity are managed. 100% Correct.

9 — As there has now been a United States political shift, expect that network neutrality will be back in play with the US’s FCC.  But this time, instead of “back to the old Wheeler-era network neutrality regulations,” this version should have more staying power and result in less negative impact to the wireless space. Additionally, we should see some movement toward the breakup of larger technology conglomerates such as Facebook/WhatsApp/Instagram, which will have an impact on mobile. Finally, expect further discourse around protections afforded online (and messaging) community providers regarding their moderation (or lack thereof).

2021 Reality: For much of 2021, the US FCC has remained in a deadlocked position of two Democratic and two Republican Commissioners. Jessica Rosenworcel was confirmed in December 2021 as the Chair of the FCC; however, the nomination of Gigi Sohn is not yet confirmed. Consequently, the FCC has not acted on Network Neutrality; instead focusing on mostly bipartisan, 5G, and generally non-controversial topics. As we all know, Facebook has undergone considerable scrutiny, especially after the release of the Facebook Papers by whistleblower Frances Haugen, the US has taken a much closer and critical view of Facebook (who renamed their holding company Meta).  In addition to Facebook, authorities and the US and around the world are closely examining Instagram and WhatsApp regarding privacy issues, usage by teens, as well as combating scores of misinformation about politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. I missed on Network Neutrality but spot on regarding Facebook (Meta) scrutiny. 50% correct.

10 — The COVID-19 pandemic is historic and is ongoing. In 2020, the mobile industry really responded to help people communicate, gain access to basic goods while on lockdown, and became an even more important tool for almost all areas of life. Healthcare, specifically telemedicine is one area where the mobile industry has really shown some innovation. For 2021, expect more chatbot and messaging combinations to support telemedicine. We will also see mobile player a large role in managing the vaccine rollout across the world – both with messaging and apps. Finally, as more and more people are vaccinated, look for a few mobile-centric “vaccine passports” to emerge.

2021 Reality: The mobile industry continued to step up during the pandemic. In the United States, the Emergency Broadband Benefit launched to provide temporary discounts on monthly broadband bills for qualifying low-income households, given the increased usage of work-from-home and distance-learning. This made it easier for more households to take advantage of a variety of online capabilities, including telemedicine, information about vaccinations and more. While chatbots in telemedicine are increasing in usage, via online and messaging channels, they are not yet comprehensive and widespread. Around the world, numerous vaccine passport apps were created and are being downloaded to enable vaccinated individuals to prove their status. Even without vaccine passports or digital health certificates, people could simply use their mobile devices to store images of their physical vaccine cards. 80% correct.

Now that you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably wondering how this all adds up. 

My 2021 predictions were 81% correct! 

Better than my 2020 predictions, but not as good as my 2019 predictions which were 86% correct. Enough of last year.  Let’s move on.

2022 Mobile Industry Predictions

As has been the case for the last few years, our industry is heavily focused on new spectrum and 5G and all the devices and support that these new technologies can afford.  That means more rich device content: more 4K and above video over mobile connections, more rich messaging, more incremental innovations and, unfortunately, more opportunities for fraud.  That’s why we’ll continue to see additional scrutiny around social networks and messaging ecosystems; around privacy and robocall/robotext mitigation.  Additionally, while we hope the pandemic starts to wind down to something similar to endemic in 2022, we can’t let down our guard, either.  There could be a resurgence of more virulent variants. The mobile industry will work to continue to provide a gateway to more reliable information for people to make the right decisions.

The following are ten mobile industry predictions that I think have a better than reasonable chance of coming true in 2022.

  1. Let’s start with mobile operator-based mobile messaging – of course, our specialty.  SMS has and will continue to lead as the predominant business texting channel. Global Person-to-Person (or P2P) will continue its robust showing, but with a slight decline (-0.5% to -3% decline).  For business texting, MMS will continue to play a major role for brands and enterprises – we might see as much as a 10-20% increase over 2021.  Finally, RCS as a consumer engagement channel will grow to between 1 billion and 1.2 billion unique mobile users (for A2P RCS) – probably not rising as much as it did in 2021. Despite the Wall Street Journal’s article on “Why Apple’s iMessage Is Winning: Teens Dread the Green Text Bubble,” (and the follow-up tweets and articles), we still won’t see Apple support RCS within iMessage in 2022.
  2. Shifting over to the Social/Chat Apps/OTT messaging channels for B2C use-cases, WhatsApp will continue to lead, followed by Facebook Messenger with Apple Business Chat potentially overtaking Messenger in 2022.  WhatsApp overall won’t grow much (< 5%).  Telegram and Viber also won’t grow as much as previous years. Some of these highly encrypted channels, along with the Meta brands will come under increasingly critical scrutiny due to their roles in providing (perhaps unwittingly) contributions to extremism spread in the last couple of years.
  3. Mobile Consumer Engagement Trends.  Consumers will continue to be reached through a variety of methods; however, expect more businesses to turn to multiple messaging channels in addition to web and email. Moreover, with the inclusion of chatbots with messaging channels, many brands and enterprises will rely more on messaging and less on specific apps to interact with consumers. Depending on region, WhatsApp and SMS will remain the top 2 engagement channels.
  4. In the authentication/verification space, I don’t expect much change.  SMS based 2FA will continue to lead, even though many security experts warn of its insecurity. Second most used will be 2FA over email, followed by TOTP-based (app-based) security codes. We’ll also see more FIDO-based security becoming more prominent as well as data-based solutions that leverage mobile operator data to validate.  Mobile devices will, by far, remain the predominant “something you have” component to multi-factor authentication.
  5. For Robocall/Robotext Mitigation efforts, expect to see some concrete regulation proposals from the US FCC.  While plans for robotext mitigation were outlined in 2021, no details were given.  We’ll see these details in 2022.  Mobile operators will work to further increase their spam text mitigation efforts along with the messaging/CPaaS providers.  While STIR/SHAKEN was put into place in 2021, there are still issues with robocalls, especially in the United States. Expect more proposals and stronger penalties for robocallers when they are caught.
  6. In 2022, Apple will add the iPhone 14 and iOS 16. 5G band coverage will stay the same or only add one or two bands. Don’t be surprised to see some support for low earth orbit (LEO) satellite support in newer Apple devices.  For Android, we can certainly expect Android 13 to go live, along with new connectivity capabilities, supporting other Google products and even Windows PCs.  Android and iOS will remain the dominant mobile operating systems for smartphones.
  7. As we start 2022, the US FCC is still evenly split politically between Democrats and Republican commissioners with one vacancy. Gigi Sohn has been nominated, but not yet confirmed as of this writing. Once the 5th commissioner is confirmed, expect the FCC to quickly work to restore Network Neutrality protections to help overcome the variety of state-based network neutrality laws.  While the rules probably won’t go into effect in 2022, the commission should be able to vote on them in 2022.  In addition to this, expect to see additional rulemaking around privacy, robocall/robotext mitigation, and breach notification.
  8. 2022 is an election year in the United States. Consequently, campaigns will begin to heat up in the spring and really get going in the summer. Mobile will play a central role in campaigns – especially mobile messaging. As SMS is the predominant channel in the United States, expect to see billions of sanctioned, campaign messages, with 2500 – 3000 registered campaigns using mobile messaging (local, state, and national).  Unfortunately, we’ll also see more attempts at circumventing accepted best practices for political texting, resulting in spam texts that the industry will need to deal with.
  9. 5G networks will roll out at a rate greater than in 2021 with at least 300 operators in 140 countries with live 5G services.  Expect over 810 networks providing LTE mobile services and at least 350 MNOs providing services with LTE-Advanced in 160 countries by the end of 2022. For NB-IoT there will be 150 networks which have launched services and 60 who have launched LTE-M networks.  We will also see a continual wind-down of 2G and 3G networks across the globe, causing some issues with legacy devices.  The issues between the aviation industry and US wireless carriers regarding their deployment of C-Band spectrum which has resulted in delays of C-Band rollout near many major airports will not be fully resolved by the end of 2022.
  10. Mobile devices will increasingly be used to support NFTs as bidding and access devices.  Expect further usage of secure mobile apps to track, manage, buy and sell NFTs with one or two apps becoming break-out favorites.  Within the virtual world of the metaverse, we can also expect NFTs to play a role in providing elements of new metaverse virtual worlds. Finally, mobile devices will gain new connectivity and functions to be better able to visualize these new virtual worlds.

Overall, 2022 will not be hugely transformative for the mobile industry; however, I wouldn’t rule out some excitement as well.  We’re already seeing pushback from the aviation industry on C-Band 5G deployments near airports and certainly, the FCC will be weighing in on network neutrality and other issues.  This is a dynamic industry and one that continuously improves and changes.  Everyone continue to stay safe and well.

[1] The GSMA Future Networks RCS pages have not been updated since 2020, so I’m not referring to data from them  Unfortunately, we cannot yet track “gold” countries as easy as we could before.  Going forward, we’ll use what publicly available information that is reliable and up-to-date.