Innovative data plans, declining module prices are driving growth in embedded wireless

Sue Marek
Embedded wireless connectivity was once again a big theme at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Connected cars, mobile healthcare and all types of wireless-enabled devices such as tablets, ereaders and gaming devices were on display.

I believe there are a couple of factors behind this increased focus on wireless-connected devices and it all comes down to price: The price of the cellular module that needs to be embedded into the device to make connectivity possible and the price of the data service from the wireless operator that will allow these devices to send and receive data via the network.

3G device modules have dropped in price over the past year to a range of about $25 to $30 per module and now it appears that LTE module pricing is also on the decline. At last week's FierceWireless executive breakfast on Embedded Wireless Devices at CES, Eric Sorensen, executive director of the Business Solutions Group at Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), predicted that LTE modules will drop to $70 per module this year. Not bad considering that there are still only a few LTE networks up and running around the globe.

On the data pricing front, the long-awaited "family plan" for devices, which would allow a consumer to use one data plan to connect multiple wireless devices, has failed to emerge so far. However, Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam told investors at a UBS conference late last year that his company will likely launch this type of data plan this year, adding that Verizon has been working on this for a few years. 

Nevertheless, we are seeing more devices with "session-based" data pricing, as AT&T calls it. Sony Computer Entertainment will commercially launch its new PlayStation Vita portable entertainment system in the U.S. on Feb. 22. The device will be offered using AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) network and will be available with two data plan options: a $14.99 plan for 250 MB and a $25 plan for 2 GB. Neither plan will require a long-term contract.

Clearly, operators and device makers are starting to think more creatively when it comes to incorporating wireless connectivity into devices. The challenge is to make the device popular with the consumer and profitable for the device maker and the operator without hindering data capacity on the cellular network.

But clearly there is more innovation necessary to drive the embedded device ecosystem to reach its potential. FierceWireless explores these angles and more in its latest ebook, "Embedded devices: balancing opportunities with obstacles." This ebook not only looks at the growth that analysts are projecting for this market but it also explores the three top vertical markets--healthcare, telematics and smart grid--where embedded wireless connectivity is expected to thrive. --Sue