An afterlife for smartphones

Smartphones are clearly becoming a commonplace phenomenon. In the USA, smart-phones now comprise more than 20% of all cellular phones, and this number is expected to rise to more than 40% in a few years.

What’s most interesting about smartphones is that, unlike feature phones, smartphones can have a useful second life.

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Ericsson’s self-serving prediction

Ericsson Chief Marketing Officer Johan Bergendahl is predicting that as Mobile Broadband takes off (and it is growing faster than mobile or fixed telephony ever did), Wi-Fi hotspots will become as obsolete as telephone booths. The reasoning is simple – As more and more cellular subscribers start using wireless broadband otherwise known as Wireless WAN (WWAN) technologies (e.g CDMA2000 EV-DO, HSPA/HSDPA/HSUPA, WiMAX, LTE) and it becomes available in many areas, WiFi hot spots will no longer be needed. In fact, Bergendahl says that “Hotspots at places like Starbucks are becoming the telephone boxes of the broadband era”.

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AT&T to complete high-speed 3G wireless network buildout by 2009

AT&T Mobility says it will step up its 3G buildout, expanding its high-speed mobile service to more than 80 additional cities in 2008. The planned expansion will provide AT&T 3rd generation (3G) high-speed data services to nearly 350 leading U.S. markets by the end of 2008, including all of the top 100 U.S. cities. The initiative will entail rolling out 1,500+ additional cell sites in the U.S. The AT&T 3G network now delivers downlink (download) speeds between 600 and 1,400 Kilobits per second (Kbps) and uplink (upload) speeds between 500 and 800 Kbps.

AT&T also plans to complete the deployment of High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) by the middle of 2008. HSUPA provides higher uplink speeds and is the next step in the evolution of AT&T’s 3G network that will the transition to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) standards. With this change, AT&T will catch up to Verizon and Sprint in terms of high speed wireless coverage. In fact, AT&T may even have faster uploads with HSUPA than Verizon or Sprint has with their EV-DO Rev A network.

Currently, there are multiple 3G technologies used by different wireless carriers in the U.S. AT&T uses HSPA that is based on W-CDMA technology, while Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, and U.S. Cellular, use CDMA2000 1xEV-DO technology. Sprint is also building another high-speed wireless network based on WiMAX, which was recently classified as a 3G technology. For 4th generation (4G) services, AT&T will use a technology named Long Term Evolution (LTE), a 4th generation technology that is still in the ‘development’ stage. Verizon too has announced that it will use LTE as its 4G technology, which will align it closely with its half-parent Vodafone, which mainly operates in Europe and Asia.

Verizon Wireless selects LTE as 4th Generation Wireless Technology

verizon_wireless_logo.jpgVerizon Wireless has confirmed plans to use Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology as its 4th Generation (4G) technology. Today, Verizon Wireless uses CDMA2000 technology and most of the rest of the world (including Verizon Wireless’ European half-parent Vodafone Group Plc.) uses W-CDMA (also called UMTS) for 3G services. These two technologies are similar but are not compatible.

With this move, Verizon Wireless will have a cellular technology compatibility with Vodafone, thus facilitating better operational synergies for the two companies as well as making it much easier and cheaper for subscribers that travel Internationally between the US, where Verizon Wireless operates, and Vodafones coverage areas in Europe and Asia.

Also, this move could be a blow to Qualcomm, the developer of the CDMA2000 technology, because Qualcomm has a very strong position in CDMA2000 as the primary (only?) chip vendor and holder of the majority of Intellectual Property but has a much less Intellectual Property and marketshare as a potential chip vendor in LTE.

Qualcomm has been working on a rival next generation technology known as Ultra Mobile Broadband, but 3GPP, one of the main standards bodies developing 3rd and 4th Generation technologies, recently selected LTE as its 4G migration path. According to the CDG, there are 400 million CDMA2000 and 21 million CDMAOne (IS-95) subscribers worldwide. Verizon Wireless currently has 64 million subs (mostly CDMA2000) or about 15% of the worldwide base. Losing 15% of the market in the future is significant but even more significant because it may compel other wireless operators to ditch the CDMA2000 4G migration path in favor of LTE. This move also could be a blow to WiMax, a rival 3G technology supported by Sprint Nextel that was recently designated as a 3G technology.

The Verizon Wireless and Vodafone will begin testing LTE technology in 2008 with equipment suppliers Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Motorola Inc., Nokia- Siemens, and Nortel Networks.

It is estimated that LTE would be commercially available in 2010 or 2011 and Verizon Wireless and Vodafone may have a common platform by around 2015 (Note: Telecom doesn’t move that fast!)

4th Generation Wireless services may be around the corner

Airvana, a wireless equipment vendor, has successfully completed a multi-carrier CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Revision B (Rev B) call in its lab, which a major step towards commercialization.Rev B is a multi-carrier system that combines multiple 1.25 MHz channels into one super channel, allowing users to share the compounded capacity of the combined spectrum. Several months ago, Qualcomm has shown a live demonstration of Rev. B that achieved a 9.3 Mbps downlink data rate in 5 MHz. Rev B can provide speeds of 5.4 Mbps on the reverse link (uplink) using three carriers (3x). The Rev B standard supports peak data rates of rates of 14.9 Mbps on the 3 carriers and 73.5 Mbps by aggregating 15 carriers within 20 MHz of bandwidth.

Rev B is a software upgrade to Rev A, so wireless providers can offer 4G-like services at a fraction of the capital investment required to build 4G networks. Rev B is fully backward compatible with Rev 0 and Rev A and provides seamless handoff between Rev. B and Rev. A/Rel. 0. Also, by upgrading to Rev B, operators will be able to boost data speeds for Rev A and Rev 0 users by reducing the overall load on the radio network.

Multi-carrier EV-DO is also expected to allow operators to increase the number of Rev A VoIP and push-to-talk users they could serve without affecting the experience of data users. In fact, in March Qualcomm demonstrated 114 simultaneous Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls over a single 1.25 MHz channel in a single Rev. A Sector. In commercial deployment scenarios, EV-DO Rev. A’s capacity is expected to be up to 68 users in a 1.25 MHz single embedded sector, or about 475 simultaneous users in 10 MHz (a single embedded sector with seven 1.25 MHz carriers).

This VoIP field test employed a number of advanced Rev. A techniques including mobile receive diversity, equalization, interference cancellation, IP header reduction, End-to-end quality of service, and enhanced speech-processing algorithms to achieve voice quality and capacity comparable to traditional circuit-switched voice.

With WiMax on the horizon, it should be no surprise that wireless carriers who have no WiMax assets, will ramp up their efforts to increase the bandwidth offered to customers. Airvana expects to begin operator trials of Rev B multi-carrier EV-DO in Q3 2007.