It's time to start planning for upcoming trends in the telecom market over the next 12 months. Maybe it's the leftover New Year's champagne, but something's telling me that this year's predictions should push the envelope a little. So here goes ...It's time to start planning for upcoming trends in the telecom market over the next 12 months. Maybe it's the leftover New Year's champagne, but something's telling me that this year's predictions should push the envelope a little. So here goes:\u2022\u00a0At least one major Fortune 2000-caliber company will raise eyebrows by going with a cable company - rather than a telco - as its primary voice and data provider. Am I nuts? Maybe. But two factors are at work. First, the dramatic workforce dispersion that's occurring among companies - as noted in a recent column, increases the demand for remote-office connectivity - which cable companies actually can provide. Second, the ongoing heavy investment by cable providers in offerings designed to enable seamless provisioning and management of business-caliber voice and data service makes it possible for cable companies to address that need. Supply and demand are going to converge at some point. I'll go out on a limb and say it's this year. The corollary impact will be that Cox, Comcast and competitors will continue their generally upward trends (Cox stock monotonically increased throughout 2003; Comcast had some dips but rose overall).\u2022\u00a0Speaking of convergence, there will be a significant event this year that marks it as "the year of convergence." One could argue it's already happened, as the advent of the camera\/cell phone proves once and for all that data and voice do belong together. But I'm anticipating something with greater impact on companies. Presence, conferencing, IP telephony and collaboration vendors are on a collision course that's set to generate a "killer app" in the convergence arena. Watch for it this year.\u2022\u00a0VoIP services will go mainstream. This one seems counterintuitive. Recent Nemertes research shows that IT executives so far aren't buying carriers' value propositions around their VoIP offerings. But carriers have made significant investments in laying the foundations for this technology, user awareness is way up, and benefits are at last becoming clear. The corollary impact will be that\u00a0AT&T\u00a0goes on the upswing. What's the connection? AT&T was investing in IP telephony back when other major providers merely paid it lip service. Unlike most of its Johnny-come-lately competition, the company has the voice chops to make sure VoIP works right.\u2022\u00a0Local-loop prices finally will start to drop. This will be the year that local-loop prices finally start going down, instead of holding steady as they have for the past 10 years. Two things have changed: The Bells are making a serious push with fiber to the premises. And Wi-Fi hot spots are springing up all over, driving both the demand for, and availability of, broadband local services.Finally, with January being the perfect month for a fresh start, I've posted a new photo in the magazine and online. Many of you have written in to say how much you disliked the other one (OK, it was a little grim). You wrote, I listened. Thanks for the feedback, and have a great 2004!