While the rest of the electronics industry has struggled over the past couple of years and is only starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the wireless segment has been surging, particularly thanks to smart phones. So what can we expect in 2011? Here are the top 10 developments we’ll see as we change the calendar.
10. Mobile TV: Video is popular on smart phones, but it comes mostly in the form of YouTube and short clips from other sources. Some movies and sports events also can be accessed depending on the carrier. Yet mobile TV is not yet ubiquitous. There is still some resistance to watching TV on a 4-inch screen. Qualcomm’s FLO TV over-the-air (OTA) service provided by AT&T and Verizon recently closed down due to lack of customers and viewing devices. But with the new ATSC A/153 mobile TV standard finalized and chips available, we may soon see more OTA TV from local stations that support the new standard. Siano’s new SMS1530 TV receiver chip handles the new ATSC mobile/handheld (M/H) standard. Look for free TV in some smart phones in the future, assuming the antenna situation can be adequately addressed.
9. NFC: The near-field communications (NFC) short-range, 13.56-MHz wireless method has been around for years with chips available to enable cell phones to be the next smart cards. Jeff Miles, director of mobile transactions at NXP, indicates that 2011 looks like a coming out year for NFC. NXP, which makes the NFC chips for cell phones, is projecting more than 50 million new deployments of NFC in smart phones worldwide this year. Support is coming from Nokia and RIM as well as Google, which indicates the incorporation of NFC capability in the next version of its Android operating system. Look for NFC to become a must-have feature on smart phones to make purchases, access buildings, ride transportation, and make reservations.
8. Wireless modems: USB dongles are the primary way that laptop and netbook users access the Internet via a cellular connection. With new HSPA+ and 4G services now available, more users are buying them. ABI Research indicates that 93 million such modems were shipped in 2010. Sales will no doubt continue, but the major trend is for more laptop vendors to embed 3G/4G modems directly into the PC and laptops alongside the Wi-Fi radios.
7. GPS/navigation: According to ABI Research, the number of global navigation devices is expected to grow from 100 million in 2010 to 283 million in 2015. The preferred form factor is still the personal navigation device (PND) from Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan. However, there is significant growth in GPS on smart phones and in-dash navigation systems in vehicles.
6. M2M: Machine-to-machine (M2M) mobile connections that monitor and control all manner of remote devices continue to show steady growth. ABI Research reports that these connections are expected to exceed 297 million in 2015. M2M module shipments are also expected to quadruple from their 2009 level to more than 114 million by 2015. GSM/GPRS data connections dominate because rarely is high speed needed in M2M telemetry applications. However, EDGE is not finding much adoption as many subscribers are moving to 3G WCDMA to future-proof their designs as the cellular networks evolve.
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5. The antenna problem: The new smart phones all have multiple radios in them: two or more cellular transceivers on widely different frequencies, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and others including FM radio and/or TV. This means that multiple antennas are needed. The new phones will be multiband and multimode for backward compatibility with older 3G and earlier systems. Then there is the multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) problem or opportunity needing multiple antennas. Clearly, more work is needed in the antenna field, and companies are working on that problem. “Consumers want slim, multifunction 4G smart phones and tablets for mobile broadband access. However, the MIMO antennas inside must operate on up to 10 different frequency bands, deliver four times the throughput, and occupy less space than earlier device antennas,” says Charles A. Riggle, SkyCross vice president of marketing and business development. “Technology advances in antenna design are crucial for the rapid adoption of new 4G devices and successful network deployments.”
4. Tablets: Apple’s iPad is a big hit and vendors like Samsung and Dell are selling tablet computers that are more like mobile devices than PCs. These devices are definitely wireless products. With their larger screens and storage capacity, they are a big hit with the gaming crowd and those who love video. Gaming and video are the services that require the greatest bandwidth and speeds in a mobile setting, so they will surely have a major impact on the 4G rollout.
3. Femtocells: These short-range home/office basestations, which rely on a broadband cable or DSL connection back to the carrier, are expected to play a major role in the rollout of LTE 4G. Femtocell and their close relatives, pico and micro basestations, cost less than a macro basestation and provide a faster and more reliable connection to subscribers under a wide range of conditions. Look for them to expand the 4G infrastructure faster than usual and give the carriers time to finish backhaul upgrades. According to the Femto Forum, 17 operators already supply femtocells and five more are committed to do so in the near future. Dell’Oro estimates femtocell deployments worldwide should produce $4 billion in revenue by 2012.
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2. The spectrum crisis: Forget about Long-Term Evolution (LTE) rollouts if the spectrum shortage isn’t alleviated. With some new 700-MHz spectrum available, LTE will get off to a good start. But down the road in a few years, further expansion and adoption of new technologies will be severely impacted if sufficient frequency allotments aren’t there. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has promised up to 500 MHz in new mobile spectrum over the next 10 years. Most recently, the National Telecommunication and Information Agency (NTIA) recommended that 115 MHz of new spectrum be reallocated to wireless broadband service over the next five years. The spectrum is currently used by other services but can be freed up. Some of the future available bands include 1675 to 1710 MHz, 1755 to 1780 MHz, 3500 to 3650 MHz, 4200 to 4220 MHz, and 4380 to 4400 MHz. This is very good news, but otherwise, new spectrum needs to be job number one at the FCC and NTIA.
1. Net neutrality threat: The FCC’s plan to regulate the Internet seemingly protects the rights of anyone to access anything at any time without without restrictions. However, the regulation will have a harsh negative impact on the whole Internet access system, especially the fragile wireless infrastructure. FCC regulation appears inevitable, but hopefully wireless will get special treatment to ensure it as a continuing viable option.