FEATURE: Inside Mobile & Wireless- The Next Stage of Wireless

The Next Stage of Wireless

By J. Gerry Purdy, Frost & Sullivan

I recently moderated a panel on "The Wireless Future" at Telefonica's 5th Annual Leadership Conference of the Americas in Miami. The conference featured the operator's partners and major customers. As many of you know, Telefonica has more than 180 million subscribers (from telephone, cable, satellite and wireless services). 

My panel discussed the future of wireless technologies including WiMAX, IMS, 3G/4G, software, services and content with an emphasis on wireless infrastructure, devices and software that will drive the next five years in wireless communications. 

I pointed out that wireless is addictive. If you don't believe it, just look at the reaction by millions of BlackBerry users during the recent outage. And yet, only one-third of the world's population presently has a cell phone. So, the wireless market is set to increase from around two billion subscribers today to more than three billion by 2010.

Joe Nadone, general manager of Intel's WiMAX Solutions Group, believes that WiMAX will become a replacement for current 3G networks. He sees both notebook and handheld client devices with embedded WiMAX chipsets much like we have WiFi embedded in all new notebook PCs today. He felt that the mobile version of WiMAX (802.16e) will be the universal standard that will hopefully be deployed using the same frequencies around the world. The goal is to finally have at least one worldwide area wireless standard. Of course, Qualcomm believes that advanced cellular networks will provide the same performance.

Clyde Foster, vice president, global software sales, enterprise division at Nokia, said that next-generation mobile messaging software will provide users with integrated threaded messaging so that all the messaging interactions you have with someone are in one application. Thus, users will see SMS, MMS, email and other messaging in a single thread, something that isn't available to day. IMS network infrastructure will help provide the foundation, but it's the next generation of applications that will provide that service to subscribers.

Peter MacKinnon, general manager of WiMAX at Nortel said that GSM networks are continuing to grow in third world countries even though many advanced countries are migrating to UMTS. However, he believes that with the need to provide 2-3 times the capacity of today's cellular networks, orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) is necessary. WiMAX is based on OFDM, which is a multi-carrier modulation scheme that allows for such an increase in capacity. He pointed out that most telecom and cable providers are all looking to provide the "holy grail" of the quadruple play where one service provider can offer phone, Internet, TV and wireless to their subscribers. 

Fernando Gomez, senior vice president and general manager, mobile devices, iDEN/WiMAX products at Motorola said that with true IP-based networks such as WiMAX, we will see more mobile VoIP calls as well as Video on Demand (VOD). MacKinnon and Gomez both agree that future wireless handsets will be more about creating content than just receiving content, as is predominant today.  

I think we're going to see as many as 12 different radios operating in future wireless handsets: 1-4) Quad-band 3G that's in most GSM phones today supporting international operation on the GSM compliant networks, 5-7) a/b/g WiFi, 8) GPS, 9) FM, 10) WiMAX, 11) Near Field Communications (NFC) version of RFID for retail store purchasing and 12) broadcast TV. 

The future wireless handset will also include a 4-megapixel digital camera with video capture, anti-movement, flash and zoom. The display will be bright with high resolution but at low power and sound will be full stereo. Obviously, once GPS becomes standard in phones, location-based services will finally take off. All of these radios and advanced handset features truly make the cell phone an integrated and converged device.

Even though this panel focused on wireless technology, it's the content (and the software that delivers that content) that's important from the user's perspective. Users are far less interested in the technology than what they can do with it. If subscribers can obtain good quality TV segments for news, weather, sports, financial and small segment entertainment shows with TiVo-like storage and playback, then users will pay a reasonable fee for such service. 

Finally, it's important to realize that for hundreds of millions of people, the wireless handset will be the only way in which they access the Internet.

J. Gerry Purdy is vice president and chief analyst, mobile & wireless, Frost & Sullivan