Future And Disruptive Wireless Technologies

Oct. 9, 2006
A Report on the Texas Wireless Summit 2006

Each year, the Austin Wireless Alliance (AWA), in cooperation with the University of Texas' Wireless Networking and Communications Group (WNCG), puts on a symposium to discuss the state of the wireless industry. The fourth annual summit, which was held on September 26 and 27, drew over 300 participants—most of whom were high-level executives and managers from local, national, and international wireless companies, venture capitalists, and wireless students and faculty. Here’s a quick recap.

Dick Lynch, Executive VP and CTO of Verizon Wireless, kicked off the event with an opening keynote. He said that disruptive technologies continue to show up in the wireless arena, but that he supports it because they eventually lead to new perspectives, improved economics, quality, and reliability. He offered up six challenges that the cell phone industry faces:

1) How to create new systems that are true to telecom 2) How to push Moore's law to reap the benefits 3) How to increase antenna research and development 4) Converging the multiple air interfaces 5) Solutions to resolve the intellectual property problem where companies ambush the standards process 6) How entrepreneurs can find and fund good new ideas quickly.

During the Q & A session, Lynch said he assumes that software-defined radio (SDR) will be available in a form that is compatible with handset size and power limitations to help bridge the gap from one technology generation to the next. He also mentioned the emergence of the cell phone + Wi-Fi converged phone, which has security, handoff, and battery life problems. Another interesting fact Lynch put forth was the declining interest in cell phone cameras. Despite the availability of higher (3M pixels) resolution cameras, interest in camera phones has peaked. As a result, there has been a decline in subscribers selecting this option. But it will survive as a niche. As for video on a cell phone, Lynch said that too many video connections could easily collapse a cell phone network. Thankfully only a subset of customers will want to stream video. Verizon has selected Qualcomm's MediaFLO broadcast video for the future.

A panel of venture capitalists next discussed "Where is the Money in Disruptive Wireless Technology." This session went around and around. All panelists agreed that both the consumer and the enterprise drove disruptive wireless technology. Some suggested investment opportunities in doing current wired applications wirelessly; new applications that push the cell phone to become the PC of today. A solution is needed to the growing monthly telecom bills in the U.S., with most households seeing their bills rise significantly as they maintain a land line connection while managing multiple cell phone accounts (not to mention the cable bill and other broadband connections). The panelists diverged from the investment focus at times, bringing up two interesting facts. First, voicemail is big in the U.S., but is virtually unused in Europe (where SMS is the preferred communications method). Second, dual mode phones (like EV-DO + Wi-Fi) are on the way.

Sandeep Chennakeshu, Senior VP and General Manager of Freescale Semiconductor’s Wireless & Mobile Systems Group spoke about the Challenges of Long Term Evolution. Long Term Evolution (LTE) is, of course, the Third Generation Partnership Project’s (3GPP) next step in evolving 3G technology. The basic 3G technology is WCDMA, which is now being upgraded to HSDPA/HSUPA. LTE is the fourth generation system that uses OFDM, scalable 1.25- to 20-MHz bandwidth channels, higher spectral efficiency using 64QAM, a peak downlink speed of 100 Mbits/s and a 10 mS latency.

Chennakeshu said that to achieve such a data rate reliably, systems have to exploit all three dimensions of wireless—namely frequency (modulation), time (coding), and spatial (antenna diversity). LTE exploits all three. Systems will gradually become IP-based rather than based on the circuit switched topology that still exists today. With the future emphasis on multimedia in cell phones, power consumption is still a major issue. With over 50% of the cell phone's power consumption in the power amplifier (PA), some innovations are needed to control the power. LTE multimedia in cell phones will also require major upgrades in processing power (>109 instructions per second). LTE will require basestation repurposing, since space for new basestations is getting scarce.

The next panel was made up of Andrea Williams of the CTIA, Heidi Salow from Sprint NexTel, Meredith Baker from the NTIA, and Jonas Neihardt of Qualcomm. The discussion centered on the recent happenings in Washington, D.C. One issue discussed is whether the latest version of the Communications Act would be revised. No one knew for sure, since such a move will depend on the forthcoming election. A key goal of the NTIA is determining how to improve public safety communications through improved interoperability. The CTIA wants to make the telecom regulations consistent nationwide, instead of the state-by-state regulations that make business difficult for most carriers. The panel mentioned that there were two House and two Senate bills being considered to stop illegal information gathering from carriers. Another key concern is increasing wireless spam, despite its illegality. The issue of five lawsuits against Qualcomm for excessive overcharging for its IP was discussed, and it was noted that the antitrust suit against Qualcomm by Broadcom was dismissed. Finally, over the next five years Qualcomm sees video playing a growing role in cell phones. Sprint NexTel believes video will grow, but that there will also be increasing interest in music downloads and location-based services on cell phones.

The afternoon keynote was given by Dr. Sanjay K Jha of Qualcomm. His presentation was loaded with facts and figures. Here are just a few of the many:

· By 2008, there will be 1.8 billion wireless subscribers, with the potential for 4.8 billion. · By 2007, there will over one billion 3G subscribers. · In 2006 there are an estimated 600 million subscribers who use some form of multimedia. · The wireless Internet is yet to emerge. · The wireless technologies of the future will be Qualcomm's EV-DO Rev. A, which produces 3.1 Mbits/s downloads and 1.8 Mbits/s uploads in a 1.25 MHz channel, HSDPA (2006) with download rates to 7.2 Mbits/s and upload rate to 384 kbits/s, and HSUPA (2008) with 7.2 Mbits/s downloads and 5.8 Mbits/s uploads. · Battery technology is lagging behind other cell phone developments and holding back video and other potential multimedia applications—like gaming. · To make the multimedia and high data rates happen, cell phone processors with in excess of one billion instructions per second are needed with a dissipation of no more than 500 mW. · There were more cell phone memory bits shipped this year than PC memory bits. · Estimated 2006 cell phone sales are expected to be 960 million. · What users want is personalization of content, seamless use of multiple applications like data, GPS, video, voice data, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. · A key issue is how the industry will work with content suppliers. · Content revenue could be as much as $43 billion by 2010, with $11 billion coming from gaming and $14 billion from video. · There is some question about whether wireless data revenue is declining. · Qualcomm's MediaFLO video broadcasts will use 40 to 50 kW transmitters in the 750 MHz band.

Paul Struhsaker, a Motorola VP, spoke next. He discussed "Wireless Networking Opportunities for 4G and Beyond." Struhsaker said that what consumers really want is a reliable connection, broadband Internet connectivity, and seamless access to content and services. There is clearly a shift from the current circuit-switched technology to IP, and a shift from the core to the edge of the network. 4G systems will focus on data and IP delivery, with voice actually being one subset. There needs to be a five to ten times boost in bandwidth, and latency must be reduced by a factor of four to ensure QoS and queuing. Media is the new driver in the cell business, but the display if the most expensive component and also second highest in power consumption. Both real problems.

4G characteristics were reviewed. They include the use of IP, MIMO antenna technology, and OFDMA. LTE uses 64QAM or 256QAM for download and 16QAM for uploads. H.264 video compression is the choice for video. All of this is pushing the limits of signal processing speeds. Furthermore, it is possible to get two antennas in a handset, but three or more is very difficult.

A panel made up of Tom Gergets of McDonald's Corporation, Rasoul Safavian of Bechtel, and Liam Quinn of Dell presented "Industry Insights on the Future of Wireless." Gergets said that McDonald's has 7700 Wi-Fi hot spots, thanks to Wayport. The panel seemed to agree that the future is multimode devices, like cell phones, that include both cellular service and Wi-Fi access. In that case, how does a carrier decide what services and options to offer? Is multimode good for productivity? It is obviously easier to put multimode in a laptop than a handset because of the multiple antenna problem. What is really needed is innovation in antenna design to solve this problem. Most panelists agreed that some applications are so complex and involve so much security that they shy away from them.

During the Q&A session, one participant asked if a converged laptop/handset was in the future. One panelist said no. But another said that special devices for vertical applications may be one form available.

The closing session, "The Top Ten Discontinuities Facing the Wireless Industry," was presented by Moris Simson, president of WaveNet. These are:

1. A shift in RF topologies to achieve more spectral efficiency and bandwidth. More mesh networks and wireless rather than wired backhaul. 2. Movement to fewer standards. 3. Trend toward more personal transactions on the cell phone. 4. Wireless VoIP, but carriers really don't want Wi-Fi on the cell phone. 5. The Wintel model probably won't work in wireless. 6. New applications have the power to produce change in the distribution system (e.g. BlackBerry). 7. The carriers are becoming the content providers. 8. The carriers cannot predict their traffic, and they could charge extra for better access and QoS. 9. Will the practice of bundling be successful? There is some doubt. 10. Regulations will continue to affect business negatively (e.g. spectrum auctions).

Other projections included:

· Forthcoming 2 billion cell phones worldwide. · An increase in identity theft. · Prospect of spectrum leasing. · Rise of the software-defined radio (SDR) and cognitive radio. · The development of secondary spectrum markets. · The question about video on a cell phone becoming illegal. · Will any one content provider be allowed to become dominant?

On Wednesday, September 27, the session opened with Austin city council member Brewster McCracken giving the Wireless Person of the Year award to Erin Defosse, chairman of the Austin Wireless Alliance.

Next, Chris Rittler of Tropos Networks discussed The Metro Wi-Fi Revolution. He pointed out that Tropos had implemented Wi-Fi mesh metro networks in over 350 cities in the U.S. over the past 30 months. They are cheap, fast to implement, and widely used for city services, as well as by citizens for Internet access. Some are free, while others require payment. He indicated that the neat thing about a metro mesh is that there is no speculation about clients. They already exist when the network is built, so no recruitment is needed. He projected that there would be as many as 40 million cell phones with built-in Wi-Fi by 2007, and as many as 160 million by 2008.

In a metro mesh, each node is a router. There is only one backhaul connection. In a typical system, there are approximately 30 routers per square mile of coverage. Most routers are mounted on existing light poles. There are over 4000 router nodes in the Philadelphia system. WiMAX is expected to be used in future backhaul applications. Typical applications include public safety use, municipal automation, consumer access, VoIP, and disaster avoidance and recovery. It was pointed out that muni meshes are competitive with future 4G and WiMAX systems.

Some typical problems and issues with muni mesh revolve around latency, but it is low enough in most cases to support VoIP. There are approximately 2 to 3 hops per access in the mesh, each with less than 3 mS of latency. 5GHz backhaul is good, but not great. Battery backup on each node is a maintenance problem. Node density depends upon the city, building layouts, topology, and existing obstacles.

Moving on to the next presentation, Dr. Ted Rappaport, Chairman of the Wireless Networking and Communications Group at the University of Texas (UT), commented on several interesting facts.

· Video in cell phones is big and growing. · IPv6 will revolutionize wireless by allowing systems to accommodate more devices on the network. · Security and safety will become more important as will location-based applications. · The U.S. telecom industry refuses to invest in university research, but invests in wireless research outside the country. · Most U.S. graduate students in wireless are non-US citizens. · Wireless research at UT is only at the system level (no circuit level work).

His session concluded with a student poster session at the break. Most of the work involved MIMO, OFDM/A, video, or a comparison of WiMAX to the 3GPP's 4g LTE.

Frank Hanzlik, Managing Director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, chaired the discussion during "The next Big Wireless Thing — A Look Into the Leading R&D Labs." This panel was made up of Dave Borth of Motorola, Joe McIntyre of IBM, Mike Linstrom of Nokia, Don Shaver of Texas Instruments, and David Shoemaker of Aleron. The discussion was unfocused and covered lots of ground, with topics like MIMO, OFDM, coding methods, and efforts to solve the cost, power dissipation, size, and packaging problems with cell phones. Hardware/software partitioning and the leakage problem at the 45 nm level in ICs were also discussed.

The conference wrapped up with a keynote by Gilles Delfassy, a VP at Texas Instruments. During his talk, "The Mobile Phone: Laying the Foundation for the Next Wireless Revolution," Delfassy said TI was attempting to address the next one billion users with technology like the single-chip cell phone. He said the phone was or has become the personal extension of each person, and would in the future include radio and multimedia in many forms. He said that as of last year the number of wireless subscribers surpassed the total number of wired customers. Consumers now see the cell phone as an extension of themselves ("like Your Mini-Me"). They want multimedia, broadband connectivity and the ability to move seamlessly from one network to another, as well as service providers providing information they need before they ask for it. The cell phone is morphing into a device that is always with you. It is personalized, it entertains and informs you, and it knows stuff about you.

Overall, this conference was info overload—and that info was very general. But it was possible to get a feel for what is coming. A good conference to check into for next year.

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