To say 2011 will be the year of anything is ridiculous, but it might be the start of high-speed mobile data and the rise of tablets.
Well, there isn’t really a “year of” any specific product or service, but for a long time now, writers and analysts have felt it necessary to declare every year as the year of something. If I were so inclined, I would probably be tempted to say that 2011 will be the “year of tablets” as well as the start of high-speed wireless broadband access.
Yes, Clearwire and Sprint have had WiMAX up and running for a few years and have rolled out many U.S. markets with their service. However, their data speeds fall somewhere between 3G and 4G wireless data speeds. T-Mobile USA has taken the leap and is calling its 3G+ system 4G because it is claiming 7 Mbps of downlink data speed on its network. In reality, LTE will mark the beginning of 4G. Verizon will roll out LTE by the end of 2010, MetroPCS has already rolled out several cities with more on the way, and AT&T will soon follow.
Since LTE has become the 4G upgrade of choice for almost all of the wireless networks around the world, I think LTE’s entry into the market marks the true start of 4G wireless (even though neither WiMAX nor this generation of LTE are considered by the ITU to be true 4G technologies). This, of course is a matter of semantics, and Clearwire, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T have all chosen to label their new networks “4G” because customers will not react positively to “3G plus.” So, 4G it is.
In 2011, people will begin to understand LTE capabilities. Verizon says it will offer download speeds of between 5 and 12 Mbps and upload speeds of between 2 and 4 Mbps – this after many infrastructure vendors have been touting 50 Mbps or higher data speeds. This is the year reality will set in and we should be pleased with this level of performance. Unless you have a solid cable connection or fios, you will find that LTE will provide faster data speeds than DSL and some of the slower cable systems.
So 2011 is the year of reality for LTE and high-speed wireless broadband. It should also be the year of realization that applications designed to run at LTE speeds will disappoint users who will be falling back to 3G networks for the next two or three years while the LTE networks are being built. But LTE will still be a game changer for wireless broadband, and we have to understand that the unlimited data plans we are accustomed to are going away. Even with LTE, data hogs could impact the overall user experience. Networks have no choice but to put tiered data pricing into effect so they can provide the best possible experience with LTE.
Certainly the Apple iPad introduced in 2010 was another game changer. Now it seems that every wireless device and computer company has either introduced its own tablets or is about to introduce one in early 2011. Apple’s iPads have sold more than 3 million units so far and now they are available in many big box stores and in Verizon stores, fueling rumors that Verizon will have a 4G iPad to sell sometime in early 2011.
Many companies have expressed interest in tablets. AT&T and Apple originally believed the iPad to be a consumer product but recently stated they are gearing up for corporate sales; there are many enterprises looking seriously at the iPad. This is the major reason Research In Motion (RIM/BlackBerry) pre-announced its own tablet, the PlayBook, that will reportedly sell for less than $500. It will include Wi-Fi and work on any network since it requires a connection to a BlackBerry handheld device. This tablet is aimed squarely at the corporate market and the pre-announcement was, I am sure, designed to hold off any decision by companies that are in the process of investigating the iPad for corporate use.
There are many tablets coming. The Samsung Galaxy is already on the market. Dell released a 5-inch screen tablet that uses an early version of Android that met with lackluster sales but it is upgrading its tablet to Android version 2.X, and HP has some tablets coming. The issue will be “features creep.” That is, each new tablet will try to outdo ones that came before it. Apple’s iPad still has a leg up in the consumer market because it is an end-to-end solution with many applications, books and magazines available for it. However, they are really lacking in serious business applications.
How important is the business market for tablets? So far they are mostly used by consumers and recent reports indicate that, so far, they have not impacted notebook sales, but there is new information about their impact on the netbook and smartbook markets.
So 2011 might be the first year of highspeed broadband data and tablets, but it certainly won’t be “the year of” either. In my more than 40 years of reporting on the mobility and wireless industry, I have yet to see a declared “year of” year that really was. I don’t think 2011 will be any different.
Seybold heads Andrew Seybold Inc., which provides consulting, educational and publishing services. For more information, visit www.andrewseybold.com.