With the economy in the dumps and many companies cutting back severely on travel budgets, I expected attendance and interest levels at the April 1-3 CTIA Wireless 2009 show in Las Vegas to be significantly depressed from previous years. Fortunately, I was wrong. I haven’t seen official numbers on attendance and exhibitors, but my impression was that while both were probably a bit off from last year, there were still plenty of wireless industry people and companies in the vast Las Vegas Convention Center. More significantly, a lot of buzz surrounded new products and service initiatives, and for the most part, the mood was pretty optimistic. Here are some random observations.
Research In Motion (RIM) made news and helped establish the show’s upbeat tone by announcing healthy sales and profits for its line of BlackBerry smartphones and by showcasing its new “applications store.” By following Apple’s lead in providing a conduit for apps developers to market their products to users, RIM seems to have strengthened this model as the industry standard. At the same time, Verizon Wireless is clearly trying to do the same thing at the carrier level through its open network development initiative. My guess is that network-centric applications like location-based services (LBS) will benefit most from Verizon’s approach while apps that provide unique device functionality (and which operate through standard network voice and data services) will mainly be marketed in handset-branded applications stores. By next year’s CTIA show, I expect we will also see apps stores for LG, Samsung and other smartphone brands.
There seems to be a feeding frenzy involving products and services aimed at providing wireless broadband data services to rural areas. The impetus is clearly the availability of federal subsidies provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. The technology winner here seems to be WiMAX. I counted about a dozen infrastructure vendors pushing WiMAX products geared toward rural service initiatives, and several announced deals at or just before the show.
In talking with some of these WiMAX infrastructure vendors, I came to understand that the definition of “rural” in the current concept of rural broadband may not be exactly what the general public is expecting. Networks that are currently being deployed or are in the planning stages will all be operating on frequency bands at 2.5 GHz or above. That suggests practical radii of service from each base station of no more than a few miles, and service will for the most part be limited to towns, where population densities are sufficiently high to make such small cell areas practical. People living on farms or in smaller villages between rural towns probably won’t be getting broadband service from the current round of deployments. In other words, Johnny may be able to get broadband Internet when he is in the consolidated school in town, but when he is doing his homework back on the farm that evening, he will be out of luck.
For rural folks like Johnny, hope for broadband service at home will most likely come from networks operating on the 700 MHz band with far greater cell radii. Verizon Wireless is the biggest holder of 700 MHz wireless spectrum, but it does not seem to be focusing on the most rural areas for early deployments. This would seem to be an ideal application for the as-yet unsettled D-block. As originally planned by the FCC, this could be done in concert with a nationwide public safety broadband network, as public safety requires far more extensive rural coverage than could be justified for a commercial network.
Another hot technology at this year’s CTIA show was CDMA femtocells. Several vendors were displaying new products in this area, but I believe that the most impressive was a series of offerings from Samsung. According to the people I spoke with at their booth, the Samsung femtocell is the result of several years of intensive development intended to resolve key limitations on their application, particularly in dense urban marco networks.
In order to allow seamless integration, Samsung has developed a femtocell control system that provides management communication to the “host” network and (via the Internet) to individual femtocells. This system architecture enables femtocells to provide such standard features as mobility management, including handoff from femtocell to macrocell.
Samsung also understands that plopping down even a very low power femtocell in the middle of a macro CDMA network can cause problems if it is not properly integrated in the RF plan, including assignment of a non-ambiguous PN offset and definition of neighbor lists. Traditionally this requires the efforts of network engineers, which would be impractical for most femtocell deployments. To address this problem, Samsung provides its femtocells with the ability to observe their forward channel CDMA RF environments, taking note of the RF carriers in use and the PN offsets and signal strengths from nearby macrocells. This information is forwarded to the femtocell control system, which in turn automatically configures each femtocell for operation that will be unobtrusive to the macro network.
The Samsung femtocell control system is generally owned by the host network operator, which then sells or leases femtocells to subscribers through their regular retail distribution channels. Samsung has struck deals with Verizon and Sprint, the two largest CDMA operators in the United States. It remains to be seen whether they will aggressively market femtocells to their existing customer base or use their availability to differentiate their network service, but I can easily foresee how this could become a very lucrative product line for Samsung.
I went to Las Vegas expecting a dearth of new products and muted enthusiasm and came away pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t all doom and gloom – far from it. As a reflection of the times, the usual CTIA show hoopla and glitter was a bit muted, but technical innovation is clearly alive and well in the industry.
Drucker is president of Drucker Associates. He may be contacted at [email protected].
Filed Under: Infrastructure, IoT • IIoT • internet of things • Industry 4.0