Connecting everything a tough play
Consumer electronics and cars fitted with wireless connectivity present a major growth opportunity for cellcos, but one with serious technical hurdles to overcome first.
Qualcomm CEO Dr Paul Jacobs said that the industry is heading towards the “Internet of everything”, in which just about anything that can be fitted with wireless connectivity will be.
“All around you, hundreds or even thousands of things will be connected, either by cellular or WLAN or Bluetooth or some other radio technology, and your phone will sit in the middle of this web, serving as a hub and orchestrating interactions with them,” he said in a keynote at the Mobile World Congress Wednesday.
That scenario was likely to manifest not just in concepts like the connected home, but also applications like healthcare, he said. “That could include things like your phone serving as a hub for a network of body sensors, or glucometers with a 3G module.”
Technologies like augmented reality will also play a role by creating virtual user interfaces for consumer electronics, he said.
But before the full potential of connecting so many devices can be realized, Jacobs said, vendors must tackle key technical challenges such as enabling proximity-based connectivity, in which devices discover and authenticate each other, and connect in ways that don’t overload the network.
Many devices will also be required to support a wide variety of RF technologies – including cellular, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC – across multiple frequency bands, which presents serious antenna design challenges, he added.
Another key challenge is hiding all that complexity from users, Jacobs said. “It’s going to be a complex environment with different hardware platforms, different software platforms, different operating systems and radios, and all of it has to connect seamlessly and securely.”
Still, all of that isn’t stopping some cellcos from getting started on their embedded mobile strategies.
NTT DoCoMo president and CEO Ryuji Yamada said in the same session that his company is already embracing embedded modules (under the banner of “converged services”) for things such as e-Books readers, digital photo frames, automobiles (particularly electric cars) and industrial equipment such as vending machines.
“The M2M market is already growing at double-digit rates in Japan, and we already have over 40% of that market,” he said.