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December 22, 2011

AT&T Hires Investment Firm to Evaluate Divestiture Options and 12 other 2012 Predictions

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

Hopefully I had you with the headline. It is that time of year for everyone to make predictions about the year ahead, and share them. In fact, whether it be via email, Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Google+, or even good old print media, there is almost no escaping Top XXX lists for the year past or the one about to begin. To say the least my inbox has been full for weeks.

Unfortunately for those of us in tech, these list tend to lean toward a keen grasp of the obvious. Did you know for instance that in 2012 various analysts and pundits believe?

·         The Cloud will be very important. Maybe in a marketing move driven by nostalgia our industry should rebrand it. Cloud seems so cloudy. The three decade-old original name for all of this, “shared space computing,” is a candidate.

·         The world is going mobile and we are going to find a disturbing number of ads on our smartphones and tablets.

·         Everything will increasingly be virtualized.

·         Enterprises are becoming “socialized” as technology drives change from the bottom up (think Bring Your Own Device aka BYOD) instead of from the top down, and Millennials work differently and their use of mobile devices and social media will need to be accommodated.

·         Providing customers quality experiences when they interact with your company is the way to keep them happy and loyal.

·         People are going to spend a lot of time on social media, engaged in online gaming, and watching streamed video much to the chagrin of traditional media who will raise rates and lose customers.

·         Spending analog dollars to get digital cents returns will remain a conundrum as confused business models continue to reign and ecosystems remain less than fully formed (e.g., figuring out how Android (News - Alert) crowd let manufactures share in apps profits).

 As early radio and TV star and master ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s dummy Mortimer Snerd used to intone, “Who’d of thunk it?”   

I am from the prediction school that aligns with a phrase that has become cliché, “GO BIG!”  (For those of us in the U.S. remember the failed budget talks?). The reason is that the purpose of these lists should be to not just provide what is usually a consensus view but to boldly challenge people’s perceptions, and even get them agitated. 

 In that spirit, and in no particular order, below is my list for things that could happen in 2012, with a dash of reasoning thrown in. Enjoy.

1.       AT&T (News - Alert) hires investment firm to evaluate divestiture options. You saw it here first. Desire to increase share holder value and at least pitch high-cost wireline service areas so as to not be bothered by possible new FCC (News - Alert) rules, AT&T will see if they maximize value by selling troublesome assets or by spinning off their outside plant operations completely. Goal is to achieve multiple more like Google.

2.       Apple fulfills Jobs vision of re-imagining TV with slimmed down iPad as universal remote and expansion of the app store to include TV and movies after deal with major content providers. Just read the Steve Jobs biography. It was his dying wish and dreams do come true.

3.       Verizon (News - Alert) confirms rumors and buys NetFlix. Content is king and on an average Friday night 33 percent of Internet traffic is people watching NetFlix.

4.       Wearable screens make everyone a potential billboard. Yes! The ultimate mobile Facebook with the ability to instantly tell and show the world how you feel. Just think of it. My life sponsored. Awesome. And, MIT students will get out their wearable screen T-shirts and set a Guinness record for creating the world’s largest big screen TV.

5.       Mark Zuckerberg named as Microsoft (News - Alert) CEO heir apparant. So you say, “Surely you jest?” No I do not. Think big. Think legacy. Think hubris. Think about the combination especially after Facebook goes IPO. Think about the anti-trust implications. May take several years to gesticulate, but as IBM touts, just “THINK.”

6.       Microsoft attempts to buy Visa to get leg up in e-wallet business. If they don’t maybe Google will. Time to cyber brand “what’s in your wallet?” Bidding war erupts as Visa is in play. 

7.       Cyber attack will cause major blackout on U.S. east coast and maybe further. There is a certain inevitability to this.   Experts tell me we are not well-prepared and the bad guys are darn good at what they do.

8.       Somebody recognizes the value of those Bell Labs patents. So over 30 years of having extraordinary access to these guys makes me aware of what is in that treasure trove and a bit prejudice on the subject. Yes, I am fond of the efforts of my friends. 2012 is the year someone(s) will take notice via appreciation in the stock or through a transaction. 

9.       Google sets aside billions to ward of IP and business practice attacks in U.S. and Europe. The handwriting is on the wall. Being forearmed is as important as being forewarned and Google has very smart attorneys so they need no warning. It will take years for the dust to settle but the big guns will be fired in 2012.

10.   U.S. Election causes family to sue politicians as robo call impedes ability to call E-911. This is the biggest wild card on the board. Almost more a personal gripe than prediction, but at some point the insanity of tying up my line has to stop and deems like only death will become them.

11.   HP board fires Meg Whitman. Not an original thought. TMCnet CEO Rich Tehrani  made this prediction back in November, and I endorse it.

12.   A revised version of SOPA/PIPA is enacted into law.  I cannot predict how compromise will happen given toxic political climate in the U.S., but in 2011 we reformed the patent laws so why not have 2012 be the year of SOPA/PIPA. 

13.  Despite speculation, Apple and not Microsoft or Amazon buys RIM. Need for presence in large enterprises behind the move. 

I have not included two predictions that I like from others. IBM in its annual list of five things that will happen in five years says we will see devices that are controlled by our thoughts. I have no doubt this is true but will save for next year’s list. Second, if you have not heard of “Hadoop” — the software being designed by a host of start-ups to manage “big data” — in 2012 you will. Silicon Valley has already anointed this as one of the next “big things” (pardon the pun) which both money and a growing talent flow. 

Despite my relatively decent record of predicting what others call implausible and having it turn out to be true, I have mixed feelings about the list. Some of these things I hope come true, others we could all live without, and then there are those that are just plain fun to watch. 

My last prediction has an absolute probability of being 100 percent right.   I will issue “I told you so” updates during the year. We shall all see if I need to trade in my crystal ball for a new one. I seem to remember Apple has a very nice recycling program. 

A happy holidays to all, and here is too a healthy and prosperous New Year as well.

Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest brands, including Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia, HP, Siemens, Nortel, France Telecom, and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Chris DiMarco
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