Preparing for embedded wireless' impending growth

I first heard the term "embedded wireless" several years ago when I interviewed then-Nextel CTO Barry West at Nextel's Reston, Va., headquarters. At the time, West was evaluating several different next-generation wireless technologies from firms such as IPWireless and Navini Networks in an attempt to determine what Nextel should do with its nationwide footprint of 2.5 GHz spectrum. West talked about the necessity of cheap broadband wireless so it could be available to all types of devices and appliances.

Flash forward to today and nearly all the top U.S. operators have an embedded wireless strategy, including WiMAX provider Clearwire, which now owns the 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses previously owned by Nextel (and West is now the president of Clearwire's international efforts).

And it's no wonder that carriers are embracing this model. With penetration rates above 86 percent, the next big growth area for wireless is in embedded devices. In fact, at the CTIA Wireless 2009 conference, Verizon Communications CEO Ivan Seidenberg proclaimed that 500 percent wireless penetration is possible once more electronic devices have wireless connections.

Likewise, some analysts have predicted that by 2013 as many as 350 million consumer electronics devices sold in the U.S. will have a 3G or 4G wireless chip embedded in them.

But equipping all types of devices and appliances with wireless requires a different business model and involves a whole slew of new players. Laptop makers, digital camera makers, video game manufacturers, e-reader manufacturers and others must figure out how to embedded wireless modules in their devices, test and provision them on the network and distribute them to potential customers through various retail channels.

Wireless carriers, meanwhile, have to figure out pricing schemes for all these new access points, and must decide whether to subsidize these new embedded gadgets. And if they do subsidize the device, how do carriers effectively structure the deal so that all parties involved make money?

Although there have been lots of strides in this area, there are still many unanswered questions. FierceMarkets will delve into these issues during its upcoming "Embedded Wireless Devices" virtual event June 9 starting at 9 a.m. EST. We have some great speakers including Glenn Lurie of AT&T, Maurice Thompson of Verizon, John Horn of T-Mobile USA and more. To view the entire agenda and register (attendance is free!), click here. --Sue, @FierceWireless