The Analyst's Take on 2011 in Technology: Letting the Next Decade's Disruption Out of the Box

Posted by Kate Jurras on Tue, Jan 11, 2011

Guest post by Emily Nagle Green, Chairman of the Board, Yankee Group, and MITX board member. Follow Emily on Twitter! This is one of several guest posts in the MITX 2011 Perspectives Blog Series. Stay tuned for many more posts by Boston's most influential thought leaders.

Are you enjoying all these prognostications from your friends at MITX? Time for an industry analyst to weigh in. I want to talk about the next technology disruption heading towards us; one which will take the full decade to fully unfold, but which is gathering steam now. It's called 4G, shorthand for fourth-generation mobile networks.

"Oh no," you sigh. "I don't have the energy to digest a big wave of hype right now," you think to yourself. Hang on -- I'm not here to tell you that 4G is going to change our world in the coming year. Far from it. In fact, 2011 is likely to be the year of mostly pain and confusion around 4G, particularly in the U.S. But you still need to know.

Why pain and confusion? Almost all big revolutions in technology start with someone -- and I'm not sure if there were industry analysts back in Alexander Graham Bell's day, but I guarantee that someone played that role -- looking at some tech breakthrough and suddenly seeing, with great clarity, what will inevitably transpire in the world as a result. But those same experts can rarely predict correctly the twists and turns that a complex ecosystem will experience in the near term as it lurches towards large-scale adoption of a revolutionary new technology platform.

Here's what I think you need to know about 4G for 2011:

There are lots of sources for info on what 4G technology is; suffice it tspeed train resized 600o say here that 4G networks are faster and higher capacity than current cellular systems. That means better experiences on mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, cars (yes), and many more yet to emerge. Importantly for mobile network operators,  once the conversion has been made, 4G networks promise to be much cheaper to operate on an on-going basis than current mobile network technologies, and will let them more easily offer new kinds of mobile services to consumers and businesses. That likely improvement in the efficiency of operating a mobile network that will be in high demand by all of us and our gizmos is one of the factors Yankee Group believes will propel adoption of the technology by the network operators.

And in fact, fourth-generation mobile communications networks are en route, or may have already arrived in your neighborhood. That is, if you agree with various network operators' appropriation of the term "4G" to what they're beginning to offer. In fact, that's the first point of confusion in 2011: there isn't broad agreement on which of several new technologies really qualify to use the term. Using the term broadly, in the US there are already 4G network offerings emerging from T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless.

Uptake won't be terribly fast in this first full year of multiple 4G networks; that's the second point of confusion, as businesses try to calculate how much time and effort to invest in supporting the industry's move to 4G in these early days. Yankee Group predicts less than a third of one percent of mobile users will be using a 4G network by the end of 2011. Part of the problem will be the need for our mobile devices to support the technology; another problem will be confusion in users' minds about what 4G is. Our surveys suggest that less then 25% of the US population today knows what it is and why they'd want it. (Within enterprises, among buyers of mobile services, awareness is higher but still challenging for mobile network marketers to sell into.)

But beyond 2011, growing numbers of users of 4G networks will each spend more time on the mobile internet. Result: similar to the impact that the introduction of the iPhone had on mobile apps -- unleashing users who said, "Oh, now I get it!" to the idea of using the Internet on a mobile device -- there will be a wave of even greater engagement with the mobile web. Mobile app revenue will continue to rise.

So the reason you need to know now, despite all the confusion ahead for 2011: Companies that begin to invest now in mobile web site improvements and media-rich mobile experiences for their customers, employees, and partners will benefit. The mobile web is here to stay, even if its evolution to a faster, more economical, and more satisfying infrastructure will be a bit of a bumpy road for a while.

Here's to a confused, but faster, 2011!

Did you just discover this series? Don't worry! You can check out our last post, by Mike Afergan, here!