Electronic Design

Business, Pleasure, Whatever—Get Ready To Network Everything

Network everything. That’s the overall trend in electronic communications, and it’s going to continue. “Computers, consumer electronics, and mobile devices are merging into one always-connected networked realm, changing the way we communicate, work, play, and travel by reshaping our relationship with the world around us,” says Chris Loberg, senior marketing manager with Tektronix.

We’re gradually making smaller networks of computers and other devices and subsequently connecting them to larger networks. And then, we’re making everything available on the Internet. In fact, it’s becoming difficult to name something that hasn’t already been networked in some way.

The next big phase will be linking all those smaller networks together to provide universal access to everything. It will lead to insane situations, like the need for hack-proof security for your toaster.

But is networking everything a good idea in the first place? It’s good for the electronics business, for sure. Most of these networks add value, provide convenience, and solve some critical problems. But for the masses, continuous and ubiquitous communications can be rather annoying—not to mention addictive.

Additionally, many of those new networks are built just to get more ads in front of our eyeballs. Google’s open-source cell-phone idea is great, but do you really want to see all those ads on your cell phone? It’s probably the only device you have left that’s ad-free. It won’t be for long, as Microsoft is already working on such a system, and Google and Yahoo aren’t far behind.

The Wired World of Broadband
Broadband refers to the high-speed data connections that provide access to the Internet and more recently to other digital services like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Internet Protocol television (IPTV). Cable TV and DSL dominate the broadband space. Market research firm iSuppli Corp. estimates that over 40% of U.S. and Japan households have a broadband connection.

Broadband’s penetration in Europe is even greater, and by some measures, the U.S. and Japan seriously lag in broadband deployment. Figures released recently by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicate that Japan and the U.S. are 14th and 15th in the world and well behind most European countries.

Regardless of the number of broadband homes, subscriber growth is slowing. Both cable TV and DSL subscriptions are flat, though cable TV is making amazing headway in signing up its customers for VoIP phone service. Growth is projected to slow further in the coming year.

One bright spot in the market is the rapid ascension of fiber to the home (FTTH). Japan and Korea are the main protagonists behind this growth. However, a significant segment comprises the new fiber installations by AT&T and Verizon for their IPTV ventures. FTTH is expected to continue that growth pattern.

While the broadband sector is flat, the general outlook for broadband is favorable. The multi-services operators (MSOs), better known as the cable companies, are expected to adopt the latest DOCSIS 3.0 standard.

This move will further boost data rates as well as provide needed management and quality of serice to deal with the expanding triple play of services (voice, TV, Internet) being offered. It also will help the MSOs maintain their lead over DSL providers and over the IPTV services that use fiber.

DSL providers such as AT&T and Verizon continue to upgrade their DSL lines from plain-old ADSL to ADSL2 and even VDSL in some areas. Nevertheless, DSL growth will continue to slow as the carriers inevitably move to fiber to keep up with the mounting demands of IPTV and the need for higher speeds.

And don’t forget WiMAX. This wireless broadband technology will go into full swing this year and it could impact broadband significantly, especially in areas underserved by cable and DSL.

Do I Hear $15 Billion?
Keep an eye on the FCC’s spectrum auction, which will begin this month. The FCC is selling off 62 MHz of prime spectrum in the 700-MHz region as it becomes free of UHF TV, which will end on February 17, 2009. This spectrum is expected to be used for cell-phone service expansion as well as new broadband wireless services that could include WiMAX.

Google is expected to bid on the part of the spectrum carrying an open network requirement. AT&T, Verizon, and other heavyweights are also expected to compete for this rare and desirable spectrum. The FCC could collect as much as $15 billion in the process. Watch for the winners.


Predictions

  • Cable TV will maintain its broadband lead in the U.S.
  • DSL growth will continue to slow.
  • Fiber growth will increase.
  • WiMAX will be a success in rural areas.
  • The shutdown of analog TV on February 17, 2009 will cause a flurry of activity in converter boxes and boost sales of new digital TVs.
  • •Google will enter the cell-phone business.
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