Commentary

The 4G Outlook For 2011: Small Impact, Big Marketing Mess

Wimax-base

  The dawn of 4G service in the U.S. brings the promise of landline-like speeds igniting an explosion in mobile media consumption, from downloading books to watching movies to zipping around the Web on handheld devices. It's also brought delayed rollouts, competing claims about service offerings, and disputes over the very definition of 4G.

Stepping into this wireless whirlwind of hype and high stakes is research firm Yankee Group, offering more than a dozen predictions about 4G in the coming year. For the record, Yankee defines a 4G network in the U.S. as one based on LTE, WiMAX or HSPA+ technology, with LTE (being used by AT&T and Verizon Wireless) typically regarded as the primary 4G technology. The following is a synopsis of some of the key projections:

4g will be a drop in the ocean: By the end of 2011, LTE 4G service will account for only .04% of all mobile lines worldwide and .33% in the U.S. Despite marketing blitzes by wireless operators, less than a quarter of North American consumers will understand what 4G means. But the market will ramp up steadily after 2011, with one-fifth of all U.S. mobile lines adopting LTE by 2014.

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U.S. competition will create a 4G marketing mess: This one's more a statement of fact than a prediction. The report explains how the fight over the meaning of "4G" began with Clearwire and Sprint labeling their WiMax network as "4G" though no network would meet International Telecommunications Union (ITU)-defined speeds of 100 Mpbs connection for several years. Now each of the four major carriers boasts its own version of 4G. Expect continuing confusion.

4G users will spend twice as much time on the mobile Web: By the end of next year, 4G users will spend an average of 36 minutes a day browsing the mobile Web, double the 18 minutes non-4G subscribers currently use. Companies that offer "high-value" mobile sites such as Google, Bing, Walmart and JetBlue will benefit, as will mobile ad players like Google's AdMob and Jumptap.

Mobile video won't drive 4G consumption: Yankee expects the mobile Web and apps to account for the vast majority of 4G network use for the foreseeable future. "The losers will be those companies that have spent millions to develop pay mobile video platforms that largely go unused through 95% of a 4G user's day." See: FLO TV.

Tiered pricing is here to stay: Tiered pricing will be the norm for 4G service, with a combination of data usage (measured in gigabytes) and network speed (measured in Mpbs). Plans will usually feature two or three levels, but carriers will do everything possible to get subscribers to upgrade. Verizon debuted its 4G LTE on Dec. 5 with tiered pricing.

A denial-of-service attack will take down a 4G network: This one has an air of the sensational about it. Yankee warns that aggressive 4G rollout schedules will pressure operators to cut corners on security will lead to a hacker attack.

The full list of 4G predictions can be found here.

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