The 2009 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona revealed where the cell-phone industry’s growth will come from, even in a down market.
Even though the numbers were down this year, last week’s 2009 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona can still lay claim to the title of the largest mobile show in the world. The GSMA announced its final headcount at 47,000, which is less than last year’s 55,000 tally, but still good. Its 1300 exhibitors represent a dip from last year’s 1800 total, though it’s another decent showing.
Global economics will play a key role in the months ahead, but there is still growth in the marketplace. In fact, designers can take advantage of 11 emerging trends: smart phones, the growing importance of software and operating systems, the rise of applications stores, embedded cell phones, the impending arrival of Long-Term Evolution (LTE), a longer life for HSPA, mobile TV, China’s booming market, the development of the universal charging solution, the growth of combo chips, and femtocells.
Smart phones were the hottest topic at the show. Lots of new models were on display, and more are on the way. Most development activity centers on this class of phone, since the high end of the market is where the bucks are. Apple’s iPhone really hit a nerve and everyone else is playing catchup, except for perhaps Nokia and BlackBerry. But even these guys have some new models.
LG, HTC, INQ, Toshiba, and Samsung all had new smart phones on display. HTC, the maker of T-Mobile’s Google Android G1, has a newer and smaller model called Magic. You can expect to see many newer models in the months ahead. Even netbook leader Asustek is considering a handset.
Software and operating systems (OSs) are becoming more important. You can’t have a smart phone without an operating system, and there are lots to choose from. Nokia’s Symbian S60 is still the leader here, with about 57% of the OS market. But Windows Mobile is doing well. The new Mobile 6.5 OS now supports touchscreens, which continue to be the hot feature on smart phones. Google Android is still the main topic of discussion when smart-phone OSs are discussed, and many new phones will use this platform. LiMo, or Linux Mobile, was at the conference pushing its OS as well.
Apple’s applications store for its iPhone has been a huge success. Now everyone else is getting in on the action. Microsoft will set one up, and so will Nokia. RIM also has one for BlackBerry. It looks like developers will be able to take advantage of the success of open platforms to create innovative software for these capable new phones.
More and more, embedded cell phones will be found in laptops for Internet access. While most laptop users still rely mainly on Wi-Fi access points, data cards and USB dongles are growing in use. The next movement will put the cell phone inside the PC. Qualcomm’s Gobi chipset lets you do so, and similar solutions are on the way. Embedded phones will also show up in new netbook models. And don’t forget machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, which is one element of the embedded movement that’s growing significantly as companies find more ways to perform remote monitoring and control via the cellular network.
LTE is on the way. As the fourth-generation cell-phone technology, it’s next in line for replacing existing 3G equipment and systems. The 3GPP organization should finalize the standard by July. Most of the details are solid at this point, and lots of companies are preparing products. Test and measurement vendors are already out there with instruments and software to cover every LTE possibility. Many companies originally predicted LTE deployment in 2010, but with the economic downturn, 2011 or even later is a more realistic expectation. LTE requires major equipment expenditures in basestations, so delays seem inevitable.
HSPA expects a longer life. There is lots of action on the HSPA front. Most handset and infrastructure companies are offering chips and other products that extend the life of WCDMA 3G systems across the globe. HSPA can produce download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbits/s and uplink speeds to5.7 Mbits/s. Those speeds can be even higher if two 5-MHz channels are used. HSPA is cheap and easy to add, and it nearly delivers the level of performance that users expect from LTE. It’s no wonder that LTE may be delayed as carriers and manufacturers work through the hard economic times by improving HSPA instead of rolling out a whole new generation.
Mobile TV is still waiting. You can get some mobile TV on your handset now if your carrier offers it, though programming is limited. Qualcomm’s MediaFLO broadcast TV is operating in some parts of the country. However, some experts are questioning the viability of a pay TV service business model because of the coming availability of free over the air TV. It is a big hit in Japan and Europe, and subscribers can get a wide range of TV programs free if their handset has a built-in receiver. Look for more of these TV receivers to be built into handsets. Coming soon is a mobile version of the U.S. ATSC standard. Free standard TV will undoubtedly be a hit.
China is booming, and it’s like the 800-lb gorilla. Its market is bigger than any other, and it has lots of room for growth. There will be major growth spurts in the future as hundreds of millions more of China’s population signs up for service. The Chinese 3G technology TD-SCDMA is widely used, and you will eventually see a TD-LTE version. Most LTE will use frequency-division duplexing (FDD), but China will adopt a time-division methodology. Test gear manufacturers are already gearing up for it.
Get ready for the universal charging solution. Wouldn’t it be great if all cell phones used a common charger? It’s about to happen. The top five handset manufacturers—LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson—recently announced that a one-size-fits-all charger is under development with support from many carriers. The goal is to reduce the total number of chargers being manufactured and improve their efficiency. The companies claim a 50% energy reduction and three times more energy efficiency than current chargers. The universal charging solution is expected to be ready by 2012. It’s a great idea.
Combo chips are all the rage. These chips include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and perhaps FM radio or some similar combination. With all those radios on a common chip, it is easier for handset manufacturers to include them at the lowest cost. I saw chips from Atheros, Broadcom, CSR, and other companies at MWC. Atheros also has a soft access-point (AP) offering that lets your handset become an AP for your laptop or netbook with Wi-Fi.
And, companies still see femtocell home basestations as a partial solution to the need for more and faster backhaul as data applications and video access continue to grow. In fact, many companies believe that femtocells will be a key part of the forthcoming LTE roll out.
That wraps up my coverage of MWC. The next big conference is CTIA in Las Vegas April 1, and we’ll bring you plenty of news from there as well.
- Get Educated At International CTIA Wireless 2009
- Mobile World Conference, Day 3: MWC’s Attention Turns To Chips And Innovation Awards
- Your Smart Phone Is As Good As Your Laptop—Almost
- Software Enables Android Mobile Platform
- Femtocells: Folly Or Your Future Phone?
- Long-Term Evolution: What’s In It For You?
- China's TD-SCDMA Standard Faces An Uncertain Future