International CTIA Wireless 2009, Day 2: Data, WiMAX, And Netbooks On The Move
I feel like I do on most second days of any big conference—sore feet and major information overload. Typical attendees usually have a specific focus, so they can zero in on topics of interest or need. Magazine editors need to see everything to get the flavor of the industry—what’s hot, where the trends are, outstanding issues, and new products.
Again, the keynotes were the highlight of the day. CTIA president and CEO Steve Largent started with some additional statistics from the organization’s semiannual survey. The main item of interest is the huge increase in mobile data services. The data revenue alone in 2008 was $32 billion, which is a 39% increase over 2007 and 22% of the total cellular revenue. E-mail, texting, Internet access, video, and other data-intensive apps are driving the daylights out of the network.
It’s no wonder the operators are continuing to build out their 3G networks and increasing the number of data service offerings. Productivity improvements and cost reductions in the enterprise are proving to be key the factors in the increase. CTIA has released the whole survey in a report, and you can get it at www.ctia.org. Great stuff.
Largent also mentioned that the need for more spectrum was one of the main controlling factors, if not the main controlling factor, in carriers being able to offer more 3G and eventually 4G data services. Like land, they aren’t making any more wireless spectrum, so something is going to have to give if carriers are to continue to increase their data offerings. The industry is a bit frightened at what the new presidential administration will do to limit or further control the spectrum. It’s a scary prospect.
Ben Wolff, co-chairman of Clearwire, gave the first keynote. Clearwire is building out a nationwide WiMAX broadband wireless network in cooperation with Sprint. His presentation was a great statement on the growth of fast wireless data needs and a good update on WiMAX in general. Wolff said that wireless data needs will increase by a factor of 1000 from 2005 to 2012 thanks to more e-mail, texting, Web browsing, video games, photos, music, and so on. He went on to quote Cisco’s estimate of the doubling of data use each year for the next few years. There is going to be a capacity crunch in the existing wireless network due to the overload and even with the future 3G and 4G expansion.
Clearwire’s solution is wireless broadband. The company will focus on optimum coverage as well as capacity. More spectrum will be needed, even though Clearwire and Sprint have a good batch of 2.5-GHz spectrum to roll out national coverage. Clearwire has about 120-MHz bandwidth in most major cities, and that will suffice for the time being, yet more spectrum will still be needed. This is going to be a major crisis in the near future.
Wolff also quoted the results of some real eye-opening tests Clearwire conducted in drive-around testing. They compared Clearwire’s 802.16e mobile WiMAX to cdma2000 EV-DO and HSPA in Portland, Ore. WiMAX delivered a peak of 19 Mbits/s and an average of 6.5-Mbit/s data downstreaming compared to the peak of 2.4 Mbits/s for EV-DO and 1.9 Mbits/s of HSPA. The averages for the EV-DO and HSPA were 0.7 and 0.9 Mbits/s, respectively. The real surprise was WiMAX’s shortest latency of 83 ms compared to latencies for the other technologies in the 168- to 354-ms range.
Also, WiMAX is now embedded in about 30 laptops, with more on the way. Clearwire has a cool device called Clear Spot that is a portable WiMAX-Wi-Fi hot spot in a small box. Any existing laptop can talk to the Clear Spot via Wi-Fi, and the Clear Spot then connects to everything else via WiMAX. Clearwire expects to have operational systems in more than 80 markets by the end of 2010 in the U.S., covering about 120 million folks. Clearly, the Clearwire people see that 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) won’t knock out WiMAX but will complement it as it helps to serve the growing wireless data need.
Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, was the next speaker. He talked about the growth in digital wireless medical applications. Most of it is in remote monitoring of patients in ICUs and outpatients at home. With wireless that includes Wi-Fi and cellular, patients can have their vital signs continuously monitored with smart adhesive bandage strips connected to radios. This monitoring is saving huge medical costs now and is expected to lower healthcare costs. The potential will provide greater individual medical care instead of today’s one-size-fits-all approach.
Robert Boch, president of the Entertainment and Devices Division at Microsoft, was up next. He talked about the three screens of consumer electronics—TV, PC, and cell phone—and the desire to share content from one to another. He also emphasized the massive growth of the netbook phenomenon, which is expected to continue since the telcos are now beginning to sell wirelessly enabled netbooks. These products are subsidized like cell phones so they’re pretty cheap but subject to the usual two-year contract. He estimated that about one-third of all netbooks would eventually be sold by the wireless carriers.
Bach also talked about Windows 7, the forthcoming operating system designed for 3G connectivity. He said that the HP Mimi netbook with Windows 7 used the Gobi chipset from Qualcomm to provide embedded cellular service. Bach went on to demonstrate the many benefits and features of Windows Mobile 6.5, which was introduced at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona in February. It’s set up for touchscreen operation and uses a version of Internet Explorer 8.
One sad note about the conference is the sudden death of Mark Desautels, CTIA’s VP of Wireless Internet Development. He had a terminal heart attack at the conference Monday. A moment of silence was observed at the keynotes. Again, I had seven excellent briefings during the day. I will be reporting on these introductions and offer some final observations in my conference wrap-up soon. Don’t miss it.
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