There will be all manner of wireless devices unwrapped over the coming holiday season. Whether it’s electronic readers, tablets, laptops or smartphones, one thing is for sure: people’s insatiable appetite for mobile data will continue to rise.

In this past year alone, Vodafone reports around 69% growth in mobile data across the Group compared with 25% for voice. As we move into 2012 this upward curve shows no sign of dipping. What impact will this have on the mobile broadband industry?

Based on trends observed from both internal and third party sources, I have compiled my 4 Big Network Predictions for 2012. When combined, these predictions all point to the emergence of the Metro Gig Zone offering bright lights for mobile broadband, particularly in big cities where wireless networks are challenged by highly dense pockets of data usage:

  1.  Big Users and Big Content will Consume Bigger Capacity in Metropolitan areas

10% of subscribers based in Metropolitan areas, using smartphones and laptops, will consume 90% of all 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi network capacity available. In addition, video-based access to information (CNN, SKYTV, ESPN) and content based over-the-top services (Netflix, Google YouTube), will account for over 90% of all metropolitan broadband access over 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi networks. Of this one-to-one and one-to-many video-based communications using Skype, Facebook and other social applications will soon account for 5%.

  1.  Big Business and Big New Vertical Markets will create Bigger Opportunities for Carriers

The rise of Wireless-as-a-Service (WaS) for indoor-outdoor Wi-Fi and cellular services will see enterprise networking vendors and carriers go head-to-head in the market for wireless solutions for SMBs, stadiums and shopping malls. In addition, mobile and fixed carriers will also compete with Enterprise WLAN vendors and resellers in vertical markets such as education, hospitality and real estate high rises, with leased, fixed cost and subscriber-based revenue models. The removal of massive tower investments and time-consuming civil approvals for small cell networks supporting will also open the door for new entrants (previously non-service providers) to enter the metropolitan broadband access market.

  1.  Big Broadband Experiences will Become Bigger Differentiators for Consumer Facing Organizations

The quest for a better mobile broadband experience will impact user behavior with regard to metropolitan travel patterns. Routes, stopovers and destinations offering consistent and reliable mobile broadband service, irrespective of the wireless access technology will benefit from increased customer traffic. Shopping malls, large hotel chains, and large consumer brands will differentiate themselves by offering free or earned (i.e. points based) broadband access and day/weekend based promotions using GPS-enabled access points for serving up local ads and offers.

  1.  Big Networks will Become Bigger with Small Networks

There will be 100% growth in metropolitan mobile offload and Wi-Fi services data traffic. When a broadband network is deployed, traffic will double within 6 months. Wi-Fi follows the same daily traffic trending statistics as subscribers using LTE and 3G. Subsequently, mobile carriers worldwide will surpass 100 billion Wi-Fi connections from their subscribers by the end of 2012 by integrating Wi-Fi with their 3G and LTE network strategies. We will also see the first 100k small cell network deployment in the metropolitan area of a country using combinations of Wi-Fi, 3G, and LTE. At the same time 100 mobile operators and Fixed Broadband Service Providers worldwide will have announced small cell trials or commercial deployments.