Wireless Engineering Beat

Keep pace with the latest happenings in the wireless engineering space from Rob Keenan, an editor with more than 12 years experience in the wireless engineering market.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Iridium reinvented

Well, just when you thought it was dead, the Iridium project is once again making headlines. In the 90s, Iridium and its low-earth-orbiting (LEO) satellite system were touted as a viable worldwide phone option for users. But, when the market turned and the cost of launching rockets increased, Iridium began to stumble.

But, Iridium is back in flight. With the backing of Motorola, Iridium has reinvented itself as a telecom company to a communication option for the public safety industry. As Loring Wirbel of EE Times EE Times reported, Iridium will offer a public-safety emergency communications package for first responders which includes a satellite phone, voice and data transceiver, data transceiver, multichannel fixed service, vehicular mount and docking stations and solar-powered chargers. The package will be available for the hurricane seasons.

So, is public safety a good option for Iridium. While an interesting play, I question how much money Iridium will will gain in the public safety sector. I also question whether we'll see Iridiunm around 5 years from now. Of course, I said that five years ago. So, I guess time will tell.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Intel fuels wireless home automation debate

OK, just when you thought a single spec would emerge for the wireless home automation market, things just got dicey. As reported by EE Times, Intel has now funded Zensys and joined the Z-Wave Alliance. Intel's move gives fuel back to Zensys, a company that was up for sale, and re-ignites the debate about whether ZigBee or Z-Wave is the best option for the home.

Interest in Z-Wave is nothing new. According to Zensys, more than 100 companies are currently using the technology. But, while Zensys has pushed hard on its Z-Wave technology, the company has had trouble getting other chip manufacturers to back it. And, in recent weeks, things didn't look good for Zensys as rumors started to emerge about whether or not the company was up for sale.

So what does this mean for Zensys? Well now the questions about chip support go away because the largest chip maker is now a key backer. What does this mean for Intel? Simple. Intel didn't have a strong play in this space and now they have a tested solution to ride in wireless home automation.

And, what does this mean for the wireless home automation market? That's simple too. Continued fighting on the standard front and a lack of a unified wireless home automation spec. And, what that means is interoperability problems, continued technology debates, and an overall slowdown in market adoption for wireless home automation solutions in the home.

Keep watching this blog for updates on the saga.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Qualcomm's up to its old tricks

It was interesting today when one of my colleagues, John Walko, reported on Nokia's phone results. As usual, Nokia reported strong earnings and also painted a pretty picture for growth in the mobile phone sector.

But, the more interesting element was not in Nokia's growth or the mobile phone industry's growth, it was in the discussion of Qualcomm's pursuit of Nokia on the patent infringement front. Since first pushing CDMA technology in the 90s, Qualcomm has often fought to protect it's intellectual property rights and position in the CDMA market in court. Now, as wideband CDMA-based systems begin to grow, Qualcomm is again looking to use the court to protect it's IP and maintain it's position in the wireless sector.

What you have to wonder now, however, is whether Qualcomm gone over the edge with its latest legal battles. As John pointed out in his news story, Broadcom, TI, Ericsson, Panasonic, and NEC think so. Personally, I think Qualcomm has a case if companies are stepping on its IP rights. But, I think Qualcomm also has to be careful here. If these legal disputes potentially slow down the adoption of W-CDMA in the market, then the market loses a whole. And, no one will win in the end if that happens.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

WiMAX, will it survive?

Since this is my first post in this new wireless engineering blog, I wanted to kick off the discussion by looking at one technology that I love to challenge — WiMAX. On the surface, WiMAX sounds like a great option for the wireless sector. If you believe the promises of WiMAX chip and system vendors, WiMAX has the chance to offer a lower-cost wireless broadband option for bridging last-mile connections. It's also seen as a trendy option for brining high-bandwidth connections to cellular networks.

But, when you peel back the covers on WiMAX, things aren't as pretty as they might seem on the surface. First, while broadband connections and cellular data services are often talked about, many people are seeing real wins for WiMAX in wireless backhaul systems and in smaller markets. Most of the reason for this adoption is because mainstream WiMAX is based on the initial IEEE 802.16 spec, which is fixed, as opposed to IEEE 802.16e spec, which supports mobility. While backhaul is a nice application, it's proven to be a market where only a few players can survive. Just ask the Western Multiplex and Alvarion folks!

The bigger challenge for WiMAX, however, is really on the business side. I've yet to see a strong business case for the technology and I especially haven't seen a strong argument for why WiMAX is a better option that EV-DO and HSDPA is cellular nets.

So will WiMAX survive? It's still too soon to tell. But, there are still a lot of questions to answer. So stay tuned. In the mean time, if you want to get more insight into WiMAX design issues, check out Wireless Net DesignLine and WiMAX.com for more info.