Electronic Design

Some Interesting Wireless Trends

The emergence of the femtocell: A femtocell is essentially a small cell-phone basestation for the home. It’s designed to improve or, in some cases, even enable good at-home cell-phone service, which is something many consumers don’t actually have. The femtocell connects to your broadband cable TV or DSL service as the backhaul. Improved data services at higher speeds will be easier to access.

Femtocell tests are being conducted nationwide. Services are expected to begin later this year and in 2009. The key issue is how to mitigate interference with existing macrocells and picocells as well as with your neighbor’s femtocell. Carriers really look forward to their arrival, because they will take the pressure off of their own overloaded backhaul links.

The ultimate death of CDMA: Code-division multiple-access (CDMA) is the most widely used version of spread spectrum. It was initially adopted as the modulation method for Wi-Fi and some other high-speed wireless data applications, and it has become one of the largest cell-phone technologies.

It forms the basis for the cdma2000 standards developed by Qualcomm and for wideband CDMA, the modulation and access method of the 3GPP/ITU’s 3G cell-phone standard. Usage is widespread. But with the emergence of the superior orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) technology, is CDMA doomed? Many say yes, but it will take decades for it to disappear as a core cell-phone technology.

The “open” cell phone: The cell phone has always been a “closed” product, at least in the U.S. Cell-phone carriers maintain tight control over exactly which cell phone models are available on their systems and what features and services are offered. This “walled garden” approach makes you take what the carrier offers and nothing else. You can’t go to a Best Buy, Circuit City, or Radio Shack and get a special phone of your choice, nor can you add software and applications not offered by the carrier.

But all that is about to change thanks in part to Google, which tantalized the world earlier this year with rumors of an open Google phone. The Internet giant even convinced the Federal Communications Commission to allocate some of the new 700-MHz spectrum strictly to open phones and systems. Verizon bought that spectrum, so look for open phones and applications in the near future. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and the other carriers will follow suit with more open platforms. Google’s new Android Linux-based operating system should accelerate the open movement.

4G before 3G: With so much talk of the coming 4G LTE standard, you might think that 3G is dead. Not so. While most operators have implemented some version of 3G, such as WCDMA with HSDPA or cdma2000 EV-DO Rev. A, less than 50% of handsets use it. 3G services are still being rolled out nationwide, so it will continue to have a long and successful career.

Carriers still invest in 3G infrastructure, so don’t write it off. Most LTE implementations will come after 2010 anyway, and some carriers say 2013 at the earliest. Yet LTE development is moving fast. The standard is currently scheduled to be finalized later this year. Chips and test equipment are available, and trials are ongoing. It’s transition as usual.

Search on a cell phone: Cell phones still lack the ability to search. If you have Internet access and a decent browser, which cell phones lack, you may be able to do a simple search. But that feature is coming. Right now, in fact, you can add ChaCha to your cell phone. Dial 800-224-2242 and ask your search question verbally. Within a few minutes, you will get your answer as a text message. Other more standard search techniques are on the way.

Ads on your cell phone: Yes, we are going to get them. Everyone but the cell-phone subscriber wants them for the added revenue. The ads aren’t there yet in any volume, but look for text-message ads and the usual ads that come through a browser, as well as some new and innovative ad approaches.

Mobile TV: It will be more than YouTube and short subjects via the carrier’s network. You can expect real honest to goodness broadcast TV from new transmitter and antenna sites designed to deliver movies and a whole range of other television to a separate receiver inside your handset (see “Move Over, Couch—The Cell Potato Is Here,” http://electronicdesign.com/Articles/ArticleID/19074/19074.html).

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