By Quentin Fottrell
Of all the news flow this week from the CTIA-The Wireless Association’s convention in Orlando, Florida, the latest wireless penetration data got lost in the hype. It reached 96% at the end of last year, versus 93% in mid-2010 and 13% in 1995. It’s on track to reach 100% this year. Several analysts expect it to go as high as 300% in the years that follow. That is, most people will carry up to three wireless devices.
Wireless hold-outs are a dying breed. So what happens now?
You’ll still need to walk the dog. But, depending on how well trained he is, you just might be able to buzz him to come home. As technology evolves and companies look for new sources of revenue, analysts predict, a whole new remote-controlled world will open up with “machine-to-machine” communication: devices that talk to household appliances. Imagine putting on the kettle using your smart phone, rather than checking your Facebook.
Wireless data traffic soared 110% annually in the latter half of 2010 to 226.5 billion gigabytes, the CTIA says. And that’s before cell phone companies, starved of new customers, start developing new ways for you to spend money using your phone or tablet or – given time – a hybrid of both.
Going beyond the wireless saturation point will also have a major impact on how cell phone companies vie for your business, with pricing plans based on your family’s usage patterns and what time of day you decide to download data, analysts say. Plus, a dizzying array of smart phone models will likely finally phase out those clunky feature phones.
Pay Dirt spirited into the CTIA convention and heard some fancy predictions from industry experts about what the impending wireless saturation point will mean for consumers. Analyst Jeff Kagan says the next five years will bring another period of massive change: “Remember what it was like five years ago when the iPhone and Android didn’t even exist? The wireless device will be a remote control for our lives.”
Andrew Seybold, an independent consultant in wireless technology, says pricing plans will dramatically change: “The all-you-can-eat data plans are going away very rapidly because of the increase in data demand. Time-of-day pricing will be big. If you download a movie at 2am instead of 2pm, that could be included that in your price plan.”
Seybold, who has been working with wireless since the days of two-way radio in the 1960s, expects penetration to reach 300% as people carry several smart phones and tablets. “We’ll have a lot more machine-to-machine devices, like those that turn on your air conditioning and more sophisticated dog collars with a cellular phone device to tell your dog when to come home.”
Todd Day, industry analyst in the mobile and wireless division at Frost & Sullivan consulting firm, agrees that new machine-to-machine devices will help the wireless penetration reach three times the population. “When that takes off, that’s when you will see penetration rates skyrocket. Toasters, refrigerators, washing machines, all of these things could have cellular devices.”
He sees smart phone ownership rising to 60% by 2015, up from what he says is a realistic 30% today. “Smart phones will become the dominant phone in the market,” Day says. He expects consumers swapping their phone at least every year for the latest and greatest model, as companies find new ways to boost profits as that all-important and lucrative resource of new customers dries up.
What’s your dream machine-to-machine magic app?