EDITORIAL EDGE The Best Technologies
By Brad Smith, Wireless Week Technology Editor
A handset won the Best in Show Emerging Technology Award at this year’s CTIA Wireless 2008 show in Las Vegas. No, it wasn’t Apple’s iPhone but that’s probably because Apple doesn’t participate in trade shows except for its own.
The fact that a handset won at all, or that there even is a category for phones, seems out of place to me. Mobile phones are devices, not technologies. They certainly use a wide variety of technologies and there is a lot of engineering that goes into them, but they aren’t a technology unto themselves. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
First, the winner: Samsung’s new Instinct, which will be available on Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A network in June. The technologies that go into the Instinct are impressive – a touchscreen with a virtual QWERTY keypad, haptics for tactile feedback, stereo Bluetooth, 2-megapixel camera and camcorder, microSD card slot, music player, GPS and navigation, and an Internet browser.
Impressive, but the phone is still a product. Maybe it should have received an award for “best use of technologies” or something like that. Of course, phones have more of a “wow” factor than something like a developer platform or network management technology.
These kinds of awards are always a little suspect in my mind. Most of the categories really were about products and services, not technologies. I found it interesting that the judges picked another device – Nokia’s new N810 WiMAX Edition Internet Tablet – as a winner in the “fashion and lifestyle” category.
The N810 looks to be a great device, but it’s too boxy to be fashionable. Maybe it fits into lifestyle if you’re going to build your life around accessing the Internet. It isn’t a phone (although it could be with VoIP), so I think it was shoe-horned into the category (or vice versa) because no one knew where to put it.
You might argue that products and services represent the successful use of technology. I might be persuaded on that count because technology isn’t worth much if it isn’t used. Still, I hesitate to go that far.
As mobile handsets are expected to access more frequencies and networks, antenna technology has started grabbing more attention from manufacturers.
SkyCross came out with a new antenna scheme earlier this year called isolation mode antenna technology (iMAT) that the company says will allow multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) on a single antenna. WiMAX and Wi-Fi’s new 802.11n interfaces use MIMO, as do some advanced cellular technologies.
Another antenna company, Ethertronics, has embarked on a mission to talk carriers and handset OEMs into adopting an “active” antenna design for future handsets. Rick Segil, vice president and general manager of Ethertronics Americas division, says mobile devices soon will have to cover networks spanning a wide swath of spectrum, from 700 MHz all the way up to 2.1 GHz for cellular networks and even higher when you add in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and WiMAX.
Segil says the laws of physics won’t allow a typical passive antenna to cover all those bands effectively. One answer, he says, might be to add more cell sites in a network but he argues that’s a lot more expensive than changing the handset antenna.
There are three technologies available that Segil says can help solve the problem. One is called “active matching,” by which the antenna actively selects the appropriate frequency. Another is physically changing the structure of the antenna to fit the frequency, something called “switched antennas.” The last is “null-steering,” which tunes the antenna to alter the receiving pattern so the antenna will not be affected by “null” spots in the signal patterns.
Segil says null-steering has the most potential benefit, with a 4 dB to 10 dB gain. Switched antennas provide a potential of 2 dB to 3 dB gain and active matching 1 dB to 3 dB gain.
These gains are going to take coordination with handset OEMs, chip manufacturers and antenna manufacturers. Ethertronics says the use of active antennas could drive up the cost of a handset by $2 to $5 but is well worth it in the coming age of multiple frequencies and multiple mode handsets.
WiMAX Forum Certifies First Products
By Brad Smith
The WiMAX Forum has certified the first eight Mobile WiMAX products, all for the 2.3 GHz spectrum that is used outside the United States.
The first eight products include four base stations and four subscriber unit modules from Posdata, Runcom Technologies, Samsung Electronics, LTD and Sequans Communications. The products were displayed this week at the WiMAX Forum’s exposition in Singapore.
Ron Resnick, president of the forum, says the certifications are proof the WiMAX industry is delivering on its commitment to deliver certified mobile WiMAX infrastructure.
“With the first group of Mobile WiMAX certified products now available, we have delivered on our promise to ensure that WiMAX products are interoperable and that operators have the certified equipment and devices to begin delivering mobile broadband services that consumers want,” Resnick said at a press conference. “Stay tuned. We expect this momentum to continue throughout the year when the first products for the 2.5 GHz frequency achieve certification in the coming months.”
The 2.5 GHz spectrum is what is being used by Sprint in its planned launch later this year of its Xohm WiMAX network. The commercial launch was initially planned for this month but has been delayed to an unspecified date, possibly this summer.
The WiMAX Forum uses the certification laboratory of AT4 wireless, located in the southern Spanish city of Malaga. Some of the work also is being done at the Telecommunications Technology Association’s IT Testing & Certification Lab in Seoul, Korea.
South Korean carrier KT Corporation announced it plans to use the certified products in its commercial network. KT’s network has been commercial for a year and has more than 140,000 subscribers and forecasts 410,000 subscribers by the end of the year.
Last week, the forum forecast there will be 133 million WiMAX subscribers globally by 2012, with 70% of those using mobile or portable devices.
British Telecom Eyes WiMAX
By Wireless Week Staff
British Telecom may set up its own WiMAX network.
Ian Livingston, who has been tapped to become the next CEO of British Telecom, said in an interview with the Financial Times that WiMAX is something he might be interested in deploying. Analysts quoted in the story said BT likely would use WiMAX to provide wireless data access for its corporate customers.
“We will look at WiMAX,” Livingston told the paper. He also said the carrier has had great success with its Wi-Fi deployments.
The British telecom regulatory agency, Ofcom, plans to auction spectrum this summer that could be used for WiMAX.
The Gender Gap
By Wireless Week Staff
The research company Gartner has accused handset manufacturers and others making mobile products of being both sexist and cultural elitists. Most mobile devices are made for men, Gartner says, and more than that, most are made for western men.
Monica Basso, research vice president for Gartner, says manufacturers are missing a big market because of their attitudes. She says most mobile products target just 32% of the global population.
“Mobile products will have to address gender diversity and demographics, evolving and differentiating into a range of consumer products,” says Basso. “This trend, together with the consumerization of IT and progressive evolution of the worker population toward younger individuals and women will force user organizations to re-think their working structures, environments and processes.”
The analyst also says the majority of people globally will want customized information, tools and other resources, a trend the mobile industry needs to watch.
“Despite hundreds of different mobile devices and models available on the market, personalization is very limited today,” Basso says. “It is mostly about aesthetics and cosmetics – covers in fancy colors and materials, themes with images and ringing tones, accessories like hanging items and holders. Normally it does not concern functionality and the form factor, which are rigidly assigned to a device depending on the target market segment. Eventually the form and function of mobile devices will be re-invented.”
Basso’s comments came this week at the Gartner Emerging Trends Symposium/ITxpo.
Qualcomm Eyeing More Personalized Services
By Brad Smith
Qualcomm’s recent acquisition of a small Irish software company named Xiam Technologies fits neatly into Qualcomm’s goals of providing personalized content across the two different platforms it has, a company official says.
Mitch Oliver, vice president of solutions and marketing for Qualcomm Internet Services, says Xiam’s expertise will make it possible to target the delivery of promotions and content to mobile subscribers on the basis of their demographics, past behavior and in context.
Qualcomm paid about $32 million in March for Xiam, which has software called My Personal Offers that makes it easier for content providers to personalize relevant content offers and advertisements to consumers. Oliver likened it to a mobile version of what Amazon.com does online, keeping track of customer purchases and then recommending content based on that acquisition and what other similar customers have purchased.
Qualcomm has two different content delivery platforms now. The first was BREW, which Verizon Wireless and about 60 other operators use. The other is an off-portal platform called BrandXtend, by which Qualcomm delivers content to mobile phone users on AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile USA. BrandXtend launched last year with MLB Advanced Media, the interactive arm of Major League Baseball. Users can download screensavers and ringtones associated with MLB teams.
Oliver says Xiam’s personalization and recommendation technology can work across both of the platforms.
Qualcomm also announced at CTIA Wireless 2008 it has started offering a BREW managed service for carriers that don’t want to run BREW themselves. That capability grew out Qualcomm’s acquisition of a platform that the former Midwest Wireless had operated before it was acquired by Alltel. Midwest had provided BREW service to 23 mostly small operators and now it is run by Qualcomm.
Andrew Viterbi Honored
By Wireless Week Staff
Andrew Viterbi, president of the investment and advisory firm Viterbi Group, and a co-founder of Qualcomm, has been named a finalist for Finland’s Millennium Prize.
The $1.8 million prize recognizes innovative technology that have had a significant positive impact on society. Viterbi was recognized for his development of the Viterbi algorithm, which is used in the design and implementation of modern wireless communications systems.
All mobile phone networks rely on the Viterbi algorithm to eliminate noise. It also is used in computer disk drives, MP3 players and systems that cull information from deep space.
The Millennium Prize will be awarded June 11 in Finland. Viterbi is one of five finalists. The winner will receive $1.3 million and the other finalists will share the remainder. The Millennium Prize Foundation says the finalists were picked from 64 nominees from 26 different countries. The biennial prize was first awarded in 2004 to Tim Berners-Lee, who developed hypertext for the Internet, and in 2006 to Shuji Nakamura for the invention of blue and white light-emitting diodes.
Emerging Tech News Briefs – April 10, 2008
Companies in briefs: ICO Global Communications, ABI Research, Intel, Telefonica, Nokia, Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, Nordic Semiconductor, Computing Technology Industry Association, Axcess International
• ICO Global Communications plans to launch its next-generation G1 satellite from Cape Canaveral on Monday. ICO says the satellite will bring a “new era” of mobile media technology with the delivery of mobile applications via satellite. ICO plans to offer eight to 15 channels of live TV content, interactive navigation and nationwide roadside assistance, with market trials in Las Vegas and Raleigh and commercial service nationwide in 2009.
• You can expect to see an expanding use of those little accelerometers called MEMS (micro electromechanical systems) in the coming years, according to ABI Research. MEMS are used now in the Apple iPhone to change the orientation of the display and in the Nintendo Wii for motion sensing. ABI analyst Douglas McEuen says these are just the advance wave of more MEMS uses, which will appear in industrial machinery to detect vibration, in exercise step-counters and in a growing number of phones and PDAs.
• Intel and one of the largest operators in Latin America, Telefonica, have signed an agreement to expand the use of mobile WiMAX networks in that region. The companies say they will collaborate on providing affordable technology for home and small and medium-sized businesses. This will include WiMAX deployments but also will look at the broader use of information and communications technologies and broadband Internet access.
• Nokia says its research center will work with the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne and Zurich on “pervasive communications,” using mobile phones and other mobile devices for communications among people and systems. One example of the effort might be a system that measures air quality in a city and then sends the results to nearby mobile phones, a spokesman says.
• Nordic Semiconductor says it has redefined the industry benchmark for ultra-low power Bluetooth transceivers with the launch of its nRF24L01+. The single chip 2.4 GHz transceiver is aimed at PC peripherals like wireless keyboards, mice, game controllers, intelligent sports equipment and wireless audio.
• A survey of information technology managers says they are increasingly looking to hire employees with skills in wireless technologies. The survey by the Computing Technology Industry Association says skills in wireless and RF mobile technology will be the most important over the next five years. Health care and education sectors found wireless skills the most important, while automotive and manufacturing found them least important.
• Axcess International has announced what it says is the first Smart Wireless Sticker that combines traditional bar codes, Electronic Product Code RFID, long-range RFID tracking and wireless sensing. The electronic label can be adhered to almost any object, the company says.