OK, OK! I can't resist the ridiculous speculations of what 2012 will bring. Some of these are things that I think will happen, some I think may happen, some are just fun guesses to stir up discussion and controversy.
It was once said that, "Only fools, charlatans and liars try to predict earthquakes." I think the same can be said for those who make predictions for the upcoming year. I think the quote above is even fitting in our instance. You can decide for yourself which one of three I am. Here we go with nine bold and foolish predictions...
1. LightSquared gives up and folds shop
LightSquared fails to get the FCC off the dime, and stalled bureaucracy takes it toll. Without the ability to raise more money because of the bureaucratic limbo they are stuck in, LightSquared runs out of cash to keep operating. What happens to the spectrum and their satellite in orbit? I could see a wireless carrier picking up that satellite for a steal. And that satellite functions on LightSquared frequencies without interfering with GPS. Could be very interesting. Maybe a Verizon roaming satellite? Sprint? It could be juicy to offer nationwide coast to coast phone and data via satellite for any national carrier.
2. Dish works out a deal with Sprint to host their spectrum
I think Dish plays out a three way negotiations for the best deal it can get. Playing AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile against each other to score the best deal possible for itself and it's LTE ambitions.
I think Dish Network wants to partner with Sprint the most, because it will be able to deploy their network nationwide the least expensive and fastest on Sprint with Network Vision. But Dish's CEO Charlie Ergen is so clever (so I hear) that he will make everyone think that's he's willing to make a deal with any of these carriers or even go it alone. And for this, Sprint will give up the farm in these negotiations. But in the end, Sprint and Dish both win from the agreement. Even if Dish gets it from Sprint at the lowest price ever imagined. And Wall Street will be pissed at Dan Hesse, as always.
3. Sprint Network Vision deployment stays on schedule
Contrary to what the loud naysayers say about Sprint, I believe Sprint will stay on schedule with Network Vision. I will predict that LTE will be live in 30 markets by the time devices get released. Progression of deployment will stay fast. Sprint will even slightly exceed it's 123 Million LTE POP's by the end of 2012. Yep, I said it. I'm believing the hype!
4. Sprint LTE devices release after a slight delay
Sprint's LTE device development will stay largely on schedule. However, devices don't come out until late summer. Maybe USB or a MiFi come out a little earlier, but no smartphones until Labor Day or early October.
First device, HTC Evo LTE. A quadcore ICS device based on the HTC Edge (which will have already released on other carriers). A new Samsung Epic with an Unnecessarily Long and Awkward name (with LTE somewhere in the title) will also release soon after the Evo, and it will be based on the Samsung Galaxy SIII, which will also already have been released by other carriers months previously.
The early smartphones will only support LTE on 1900 and possibly 800, but will not support Clearwire's TD-LTE on 2500. The first Sprint Android smartphones with 2500MHz TD-LTE capability will not be sold until 2013. One caveat for the iPhone with LTE, see below.
5. iPhone LTE comes out but does not support Sprint's LTE frequencies
In the one scandal of the year (and we will have to give the Sprint naysayers at least one), the iPhone with LTE comes out in October. It will have a new form factor, a larger screen (around 4") and the world will be stoked.
However, in a shocking and deeply saddening turn of events for Sprint customers, it won't support LTE on 800 or 1900. But it will on 2500 (because of China Mobile). And chaos ensues because Sprint customers will only be able to use LTE on Clearwire spectrum, and not on Sprints LTE. Pressure mounts for Clearwire to start deploying it's LTE, which is likely just beginning. And never will provide the coverage that will be acceptable.
BTW, I sure hope this doesn't happen. But it's something I fear, since Sprint is the only carrier planning LTE on 800 and 1900 in the world in the near future, AFAIK. And it may be one of the reasons why Sprint has buried the hatchet with Clearwire, because Sprint has already been given a heads up about the frequency issue. Just sayin'...
6. Clearwire deploys first TD-LTE tower
By October, Clearwire starts testing a few towers of TD-LTE on 2500. A slow but steady TD-LTE rollout begins in November/December time frame. Clearwire sets up a two-prong approach for it's LTE deployment.
The first goes around and adds LTE to existing primary markets, starting in the largest cities and completely ignoring the many tertiary markets (like Abilene and Modesto).
The second goes around adding hotspot LTE capacity where Sprint needs it. But this will start slow, because I believe the only Sprint device that will support Clearwire TD-LTE in 2012 is the new iPhone (and possibly some USB and MiFis). This will deploy on a tower by tower basis, and only on Network Vision converted towers.
7. Third Party WiFi roaming deals catch on for Wireless Carriers
As carriers start feeling the spectrum crunch for data, large full city WiFi deployments become an answer. The company Towerstream, and possibly other startups, gain traction with their business model of city-wide WiFi. Carriers work out roaming deals with Towerstream (and others) that their customers devices can roam on their WiFi network. This is actually a genius idea and carriers need to get on board. It's a great idea in dense primary markets, where most of the network strain occurs. And TV white space is not going to be an option in the largest markets. If you can get 20MB download speeds off Towerstream WiFi all over the city included in your wireless carrier's service...well, I think we'd all be happy with that.
8. TV White Spaces start to gain momentum for Wireless
So many people are putting hopes on TV White Spaces. And they are very exciting for the thought for use in wireless. TV White Space frequencies, from 100MHz to 600MHz carry far distances and penetrate everything except for earthen concrete bunkers (slight exaggeration). Can you imagine a 100MHz LTE tower? Living in rural New Mexico, I sure can. Although it will take years to develop networks and devices to run in white spaces, 2012 will be the year where it really starts to get traction.
Each TV channel is 6MHz wide. So it takes two contiguous TV channels to place one 5x5 LTE carrier, and it takes 4 contiguous TV channels to place one 10x10 carrier. Separate carriers, aggregated with LTE Advanced could also be a solution. However, this will not be a solution for primary markets, as most do not have 2 to 4 free TV channels to use. Some secondary markets will have some available, especially west of the Mississippi. However, the big winner in TV White Space are tertiary and rural markets, especially in the West and Midwest. Lots of TV White Space to be had.
And given that it's the tertiary and rural markets who need access to wireless broadband the most, and will benefit most from the vast distances of 100MHz and 200MHz signals propagation, well it's going to be a winner. But since devices that run on TV White Spaces will need to be able to run on the whole frequency set from 54MHz to 699MHz, and are not interfered with from adjacent TV broadcasts (whichbroadcast at much higher power limits). It's going to be a little bumpy developing devices and chipsets that do this all seamlessly and without killing device batteries quickly.
However, the thought of setting up giant 200MHz towers out in rural Western states that reach 30 miles radius out from the tower really get me excited. No more dead spots in the boonies!
9. AT&T gets very aggressive trying to secure more spectrum
This is kind of a no-duh prediction. But AT&T will have to get creative and aggressive to get the spectrum it needs for data. It will either grossly overpay and drive up spectrum costs for any spectrum that ends up out there on the market, or they may even get down in the trenches and make a deal with their sworn enemies Sprint and Clearwire for some EBS/BRS spectrum. But there will be a lot of news about AT&T's pillaging quest for spectrum in 2012.