4G Status Report: Wireless embedded in every device

The business model that drives embedded devices will be as important as the devices themselves and those devices are going to be as diverse as the consumer electronics space allows.

"The computing space is playing out today. I see the e-book space playing out more this year; portable navigation playing out, location based services opportunities. It's all happening as we sit here," said Glenn Lurie, president of emerging technologies at AT&T and a participant on the "The Path to 4G: Wireless embedded in every device" panel.

Somebody has to draw a line or the market will flood with a plethora of silly wirelessly-enabled devices. It's up to the panel to provide some guidance as to where devices should develop. "Anybody in the mobility space, whether you're a software guy, a chipset guy, an OEM, this is the hottest and biggest buzz space in all of mobility," Lurie said.

The buzz might be louder on the Sprint side of the aisle where 4G means WiMAX. Lurie's fellow panelist, Todd Rowley, vice president for 4G, looks forward to "preaching to the innovators to say here's a great network; here's a great technology and we have a ton of customers that we can sell into and distribute to. The beauty of this is we open it up to a lot of different players in a lot of different ways... to say 'help us innovate and take advantage of the opportunity both with 3G and 4G.'"

The two men don't agree on 4G but they do agree there's more than one way to build an embedded devices business. "You have to have multiple paths and multiple business models that fit a bunch of different scenarios to really drive it," said Rowley.

The business models hinge on what kind of speed/coverage the consumer is willing to pay for. "Someone who's really price sensitive and not traveling that much may be more interested in a 4G metro area footprint or somebody may say coverage is more important... so I'll go ahead and take 3G," Rowley said.

The business traveler is on the tip of the spear demanding all-time connectivity via an embedded device but the concept's so popular it's bound to seep into the general public.  "When the use cases start to fall to youth and students and soccer moms, that changes your target. We're going to have to give those folks more choice in how they buy those services from us, whether it's lower rate plans that are capped, prepaid or paid-in-advance plans, day passes. We're going to have to change that model a bit and we're obviously working toward that," Lurie said.