From iPhones to mergers to patent wars, it has been quite a year in the world of telecommunications. But despite all the big industry news swirling around this year, the public was left with more questions than answers.
But come 2012, court cases will render verdicts, more products will be released and the fate of several companies will be determined.
Here are 10 big telecom questions for 2012.
1. What's Up With the iPhone 5?
The iPhone 4S made its debut in 2011, and was the talk of the global town in the months leading up to its release. People waited, wide-eyed and wondering: When will it be released? Who will carry it? What features will it have? Will I like it? Will my friends think it's cool? Will my friends think I'm cool?
Then BAM! The iPhone 4S came out.... and immediately met with mixed reviews. People expecting the iPhone 5 were disappointed. They complained it didn't look that different from the iPhone 4. Apple's shares slipped five percent on the reception, closing the day two percent lower. But then a series of events began to occur. People started liking the phone for what it could do, rather than what it looked like. Apple soon began reporting very strong sales for the model.
Heading into 2012, and just as all of those questions were answered about the iPhone 4S, the people at Apple are teasing us with talk of a new iPhone. Interested parties are asking the same questions about the upcoming phone: When will it be released? Who will carry it? What features will it have? Will I like it? Will my friends think it's cool? Will my friends think I'm cool?
2. Will 2012 be the year of Tim Cook?
Tim Cook's predecessor Steve Jobs, who died this fall, had redefined consumer technology. The combined power of his iPod, iPhone and iPad products in recent years have propelled Apple from near extinction to the most valuable technology company in the world.
In 2012, we will see how that legacy plays out.
Jobs relinquished the chief executive role to Tim Cook, the number two man in the company, whom the Washington Post called a logistics wizard, not a product guy. Without Jobs' creativity guiding the company, will Apple continue to dazzle the public with its latest creations under Cook? Or has the company reached an inevitable peak?
3. AT&T, T-Mobile Merger: Deal or Dud?
The Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have both come out in opposition to the $39 billion AT&T merger with T-Mobile USA, citing higher costs and reduced service for consumers. But AT&T plans to stay in the ring all 12 rounds.
With many analysts calling the merger essentially dead, is there any chance that AT&T will throw in the towel?
Furthermore, Deutsche Telekom -- T-Mobile USA's parent company -- has made it clear it wants to get rid of its American unit. Is there any company that can buy T-Mobile without leading to a lengthy legal battle?
4. Will Sprint Catch Up With the Leading Pack?
For a good while, Sprint Nextel has been left out of the iPhone party as its bigger competitors -- AT&T and Verizon -- paired up with Apple to provide mobile service. This saw the country's third-largest wireless carrier lose customers as they flocked to the cool kids.
But this year, Apple finally allowed Sprint to partake in the iPhone fun. Even if Sprint is likely to take a short-term hit and record losses for the partnership in the next few years, the latecomer is going all in. Will its gamble pay off in the long run?
Sprint's share of the pie could also take a hit in the event of an AT&T and T-Mobile merger, which would leave two companies -- AT&T and Verizon -- controlling over 80 percent of the wireless market. If that happens, will Sprint be able to have the resources to compete with the mighty duo, or it will it be left, once again, as the wallflower, alone at the punch bowl?
Of course, with the way things are going, Sprint could also try to pair up with a suitor come 2012. There's certainly been some gossip about that.
5. How Will the Race for Spectrum Play Out?
With people downloading movies and watching Youtube videos on their new smartphones, wireless carriers are fretting about having enough wireless spectrum to support the burst of data usage. From AT&T trying to buy T-Mobile to Verizon aligning with cable companies, wireless carriers are doing everything they can to get their hands on what one analyst called the lifeblood of wireless service.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless have implemented a tiered-pricing plan, meaning that heavy data users will need to pay more, in order to help solve the shortage issue. Sprint, on the other hand, continues to tout its unlimited data plan in order to gain customers.
However, a lot of the available spectrum is in the hands of cable companies, essentially lying dormant and unused. The FCC wants to buy that spectrum and resell it to wireless carriers, in essence taking that lifeblood and putting it back into circulation. Will 2012 see this spectrum made available to sustain the ever-increasing demand for data space?
6. Does Amazon Plan to Join the Smartphone Club?
Amazon has already proven with its Kindle Fire that it can go head-to-head with the iPad 2 in the tablet market. Now, some analysts predict the online retailer will add a spark of competition to the mobile phone industry by releasing its own smartphone next year. Citi analysts believe it will be released in the fourth quarter, which means it could make a nice gift for next year's holiday season and get gadget geeks all giddy in the months prior.
But Amazon has remained tightlipped on the rumors, and the public has been given very little information about what an Amazon smartphone would look like.
In a market already saturated with smartphones, the big question for Amazon is: who will buy it?
7. Who Will be King in the Smartphone Patent War?
On that note, are all smartphones the same? We may get some answers in 2012 as smartphone makers battle it out in patent lawsuits.
Apple has several patent battles it is fighting around the world. It has taken Samsung to U.S. court and called the Galaxy line of products copycats of the iPhone and iPad. Meanwhile, a German court ruled in early December that Apple's iPhone and iPad violated Motorola patents.
A war is brewing in the smartphone patent world, and it doesn't look like white flags will be waved anytime soon. Are we ever going to figure out who actually created the smartphone?
8. Is Carrier IQ Too Smart for its Own Good?
The IQ of Carrier IQ may be a little too high for privacy advocates.
In November, researcher Trevor Eckhart revealed that the mobile software carrier had installed software in cell phones that recorded information, such as the location of a phone -- and potentially even messages sent through text -- without notifying customers and allowing them to discontinue the service.
A whole host of companies and government agencies have filed an array of civil and criminal lawsuits, but Carrier IQ denies its software is capable of intercepting messages. Is this Carrier IQ software just too smart for the public?
9. Will the BlackBerry Remain the Device of the Businessman?
The BlackBerry -- often referred to by addicted users as the CrackBerry -- has been the businessman's cellular phone of choice, due to the usability of its keyboard for texting and e-mailing. But the CrackBerry user may soon enter rehab.
Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry is facing more competition than ever from Apple's iPhone and Google's Android, even as it tries to recover from the massive outage it suffered in the fall due to a hardware problem that caused a widespread backlog in data.
In coming out of a tough 2011 and going into a more saturated 2012 market, will RIM and its BlackBerry be able to hold on to its best customer -- the white-collar worker? Or will it continue to lose market share?
10. Will Someone Gobble Up Netflix?
Netflix (especially Netflix shareholders) have had a rough ride these last few months. The company announced this fall it planned on splitting its streaming video and DVD-by-mail service, charging as much as 60 percent more to its customers. Although the company backtracked on the company split, it kept the price increases.
Oops. The move may have come too late, as Netflix later reported it lost 800,000 subscribers during the quarter, and the company's stock slid. Netflix shares are now one-fourth of the company's 52-week high, making it an attractive takeover target.
Over the last few days, there has been intense speculation that Verizon would try to enter the streaming market by taking over Netflix. Others have questioned those rumors. But regardless of whether that happens, it raises several important questions about what 2012 could bring. Will it be the year that Netflix bounces back, gets bought out, or continues on its downward trajectory?