The keynotes at CTIA are really the highlights of the show. It is here where major industry leaders, players and celebrities bring news of trends, significant efforts, and new products. Arun Sarin, CEO of the Vodaphone Group, started off the day by recommending that carriers join together and put all their support behind long-term evolution (LTE)—the favored 4G technology. Or I should say that so far that has been the general feeling in the industry. LTE has won the battle, but WiMAX is still out there and actually ahead of LTE in deployment. Sarin also recommended that WiMAX be included as part of the LTE standard under the TDD segment. The likelihood of that happening is probably no more than 50/50, but it is an interesting view. WiMAX is already deployed worldwide and is slowly continuing to roll out. And with Sprint Nextel getting ready to build out nationwide, probably with Clearwire’s help, why wait longer for LTE?
Next up was Yahoo Mobile’s Marco Boerries, who announced a new version of Yahoo’s oneSearch product. oneSearch is an open mobile ecosystem that lets you get answers, find people and store your favorite content. The upgrade, OneSearch 2.0, gives mobile users a better search capability than exits now. It features a “semantic Web” approach that should provide more relevant pings. Voice-input is a part of 2.0 and should be available with several partners this coming summer. Mobile Internet use is going to be much greater than laptop and even PC Internet use because of the shear number of subscribers. This will make mobile advertising a target for increased revenue extraction. Get ready.
The remainder of the keynote panels was a discussion chaired by Lowell McAdam, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, and was made up of Patricia Russo, CEO of Alcatel Lucent, Carl-Henric Svanberg, CEO of Ericsson, and Mike Zafirovski, CEO of Nortel. The topic was the “Path to 4G”. This is an infrastructure panel and their opinions seem to be just a bit different from the carriers they sell to.
Just as a reminder, 4G is the cell phone industry’s next big technology advancement that uses orthogonal frequency-dvision multiple access (OFDMA) to offer the potential for mobile data rates up to 100 Mb/s in bandwidths of 50 to 100 MHz. It is an all-IP wireless-broadband service that includes voice. The goal is a better user experience and far more data services and applications such as video and gaming. LTE was not expected to show up until about 2012 but almost everyone in industry is pushing hard to develop this standard and get it deployed. We can expect to see some early deployments probably in 2010.
The consensus of the panel seems to be that about 85% of the world-wide carriers will adopt LTE including even Verizon (which up until now has supported the cdma2000 EV-DO path). LTE is definitely the winner here but this group did not seem to have an opinion on how the carriers will differentiate themselves if they all use the same standard. It will no doubt be the carrier who can link together all the various products and services that are expected to be deployed.
When asked about the status and future of 3G, the panel indicated that 3G was still rolling out and it would continue to be a good investment for years to come. Eventually carriers will switch over to 4G well into the future. However, most agreed that the move from 3G to 4G will come much quicker than the 2G to 3G switchover that has taken a decade or so and is still going on.
Some other highlights from the show:
- Will there be a seamless handoff between the various 4G technologies? Answer: maybe.
- Network management will be more important. Those wanting/needing the higher speeds will have to pay extra for it.
- Data usage has increased 700% in the past 12 months. More capacity is definitely needed.
- A key change is the move from PC/laptop centric usage to a handset centric usage.
- Femto cells definitely solve some current access problems and will be part of the future infrastructure.
- Regulators should enable a healthy industry so as to maximize its potential.
I spent the rest of the day in a variety of briefings with individual companies. First up was Siemens’ machine-to-machine (M2M) business. M2M turns out to be a huge part of the cell-phone industry although it has kept a low profile to the consumer, who doesn’t have a clue about it. In case you are not familiar with it, M2M is the use of cell-phone technology to monitor and control all sorts of non-voice applications. Siemens and about a dozen other companies (Motorola, Wavecom, etc.) make tiny GSM/GPRS and cdma2000 1xRTT modules to embed into other products. Some common applications include vehicle and other asset tracking, security systems, vending machine service, and energy management. These modules are highly reliable and are used to transmit status data back to some central point. Data rates are low, making GPRS and other slow-speed technologies more than adequate. Siemens is currently the market leader in the M2M space and rumor has it that this division will be spun-off as a separate company. The future looks good for M2M—keep in mind that the total world potential for handset sales is 6.6 billion, or the world’s population. However, there are any more machines out there with M2M potential and 50 billion may not be a large enough estimate.
Next, I visited with TruePosition, a company that makes location-based-technology products. Their uplink-time difference-of-arrival (U-TDOA) technology is widely used in the cell phone industry to implement the E911 location system mandated by the FCC for all carriers. U-TDOA is the E911 technology used by AT&T and T-Mobile. Roughly 75K U-TDOA basestations are part of the estimated 200K+ basestations in the U.S. This system uses special receivers from three basestations to triangulate on a handset to compute its location usually to within 50 meters. Other cell sites of the cdma2000 variety use a handset solution that requires each handset have a GPS receiver that reports its location back to the carrier for E911 service. A version that helps predict location when the GPS antenna is indoors and out of touch with the satellites is called Assisted GPS.
TruePosition announced their new Hybrid Location Solution at the show. It combines the best features of U-TDOA and A-GPS. New algorithms combine the two technologies to provide higher location accuracy and increased reliability. As it turns out, U-TDOA is better in those locations where lots of cell sites exist and indoors while A-GPS works best when it is in a location with a clear view of the sky like in rural areas. The new hybrid approach is expected to improve overall location capability that will promote better location-based services (LBS).
My next visit was to the Rohde & Schwarz booth where I got a quickie overview of the latest wireless test equipment. These guys are really geared up to cover almost all the new technologies including LTE, WiMAX, HSPA and MIMO. Their latest new product is the CMW500, a UMTS LTE compliant protocol tester. It targets chipset and device manufacturers who want an instrument that covers the entire development of LTE products. It can provide significant cost reductions and should reduce time to market for many.
The CMW500 offers software tools like Project Explorer that configures the test run and manages the results. Message Analyzer analyzes the protocol layers and lets designers detect any problems in the stack. In the PC based solution, the physical layer is emulated by software to which the protocol stack of the LTE device is linked. The CMW500 has a frequency range to 6 GHz and a bandwidth of 40 MHz. Future versions will accommodate MIMO, multiple radio cells, higher data rates and a digital I/Q interface.
The 3G Americas booth had lots of info on 3G and coming 4G technologies. One interesting display showed data from Informa Telecoms & Media including stats on 3G. Currently there are 1.7 billion worldwide 3G subscribers. Of those, 78% are UMTS WCDMA and HSPA, 14% are EV-DO and 8% are “other” technologies like China’s TD-SCDMA.
I had a short visit to the Texas Instruments booth. I spoke with some of their infrastructure guys. They are just about to introduce a new power management IC for use in AMC cards that go in microTCA platforms that are being selected for new basestations.
Following that was an update from the Wi-Fi Alliance. More and more Wi-Fi is showing up in handsets. The Alliance will soon be testing VoIP over Wi-Fi products. Also, 802.11n final ratification may come mid-2009. Before that we may see the final version of 802.11s, the Wi-Fi mesh standard. And a high speed study group is looking ahead to higher speed versions (1 Gb/s+). Wi-Fi continues to be strong and will increasingly find itself entangled with the cell phone industry.
My last visit of the day was with Qualcomm. As usual, Qualcomm has lots of new things to show. They are still pushing the development of their own 4G competition to LTE and WiMAX. It is called ultra-mobile broadband (UMB) and was developed by the 3GPP2 standards group. Like the other 4G technologies, it uses OFDMA technology. With Qualcomm’s large IP base that included OFDMA, they will play in the LTE arena even if UMB does not make it.
Qualcomm has also developed an enhanced version of the 1xRTT standard that doubles voice capacity in their standard 1.25 MHz channel. This cdma technology now supports an average of 35 calls per channel, but with the new system it is expected to handle 100 calls thanks to a new interference cancellation method that can be employed in the handset and at the basestation. This new system should greatly extend the life of current cdma2000 systems used by Verizon and Sprint Nextel and in Korea. Qualcomm also has a new chip for ultra-low-cost handsets (ULCH) that is price competitive with existing GSM ULCH chipsets. I didn’t get a chance to look at their Gobi system, so that’ll be future discussion.