For those of us who write about the wireless industry, 2011 was a busy, and sometimes annoying, year. We got to read hundreds of pages of court documents and FCC pleadings for the AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile, which fortunately never happened.
We got to see 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology finally get rolling, at least with Verizon Wireless. And of course we got to see LightSquared claim, with an apparently straight face, that it's perfectly OK for them to destroy the entire GPS industry just so they could sell LTE to carriers. But will 2012 be any better? Of course not.
1. AT& T will deploy 4G LTE countrywide
AT&T will field 4G LTE on a national basis, proving that it was lying about needing T-Mobile all along. In fact, AT&T has already started lighting up a few cities with LTE, and now that it's closed the spectrum deal with Qualcomm, the pace should increase. The truth is that T-Mobile had nothing to offer AT&T's LTE plans. The whole thing was a sham so they could take out their low-price competition.
2. T-Mobile will find new partners to expand business
T-Mobile USA will find a new partner to help it grow its business. While it will get some spectrum that it badly needs from AT&T's breakup deal with Deutsche Telekom, it probably won't see any of the breakup fees DT expects to get from AT&T. DT has so many intractable legal problems that it needs all the money it can get its hands on. Will DT sell T-Mobile USA? Probably not, unless some buyer with tons of money and no potential antitrust conflicts comes along. After all, T-Mobile USA is DT's most profitable foreign operation. Who will that new partner be? Maybe Dish Network, and maybe there will be a marketing arrangement with AT&T.
3. No roaming on competing carriers' LTE networks
LTE will remain proprietary, despite the lack of any technical justification. The carriers currently fielding LTE could give their devices the ability to roam on each other's network, but they won't. It's all about marketing and who can claim the best 4G service, despite the fact that they're all basically the same.
4. LightSquared wireless data service is doomed
LightSquared will not be allowed to launch its GPS-killing data service. Opposition from the military will ensure it won't happen and the suggestions from LightSquared that the Pentagon could keep GPS interference to a minimum with just a simple upgrade will fall on deaf ears in a time of Pentagon budget cutbacks. Besides, this would mean having to retrofit every one of those GPS-guided smart bombs, cruise missiles, drones and other devices. Unless the military weapons people can be absolutely certain that GPS interference won't cause a drone to launch a Hellfire missile into a school instead of a group of terrorists, it's not going to happen. Furthermore, the civilian GPS industry will lobby relentlessly against the LightSquared plan, which will encourage Congress to keep a close eye on the issue.