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Parsing The Future of Wireless

NEW ORLEANS -- What's the next big thing in wireless? What else? It's still convergence, according to attendees at this week's CTIA 2005 conference here.

Officials from Texas Instruments (TI), Philips, Fujitsu Network Communications, the Wi-Fi Alliance, Flarion Technologies and Freescale Semiconductor touted the holy grail of convergence, highlighting a number of next-generation technologies, such as Ultra Wide Band , WiMAX and Cognitive Radio.

Jon Adams, director of radio technology at Freescale Semiconductor, said his company was looking at the convergence of myriad technologies into cellular. He also noted the inherent challenges for handset manufacturers.

"All those [technologies] will converge into the handset," Adams said. "And we're going to struggle with how we put all these radios into a phone where the value proposition will be, 'How do we control the costs, and at the same time not have to carry a nuclear reactor to keep them all running?'"

Bill Krenik, manager of wireless advanced architectures at TI, reminded the standing-room-only CTIA audience that TI's single cell chips are part of the move toward doing more with less.

In terms of the next big thing, Krenik cited DVBH (Digital Video over Handset) as a technology to watch out for, as it is one that consumers will understand and embrace.

"Let's face it. We've tried to sell consumers around the world a lot of technologies that frankly they didn't know much about, had a hard time understanding and they really didn't know what benefit it could bring them," Krenik said. "TV on cell phones is something people understand."

WiMAX was touted as one of the next big things by James Orr, principal network architect of Fujitsu. He said WiMAX was the solution and would enable better connectivity for large metropolitan areas, backhauling and local multi-user coverage.

Another topic the panel discussed was the big future of UWB. The members agreed it will be a significant aspect of wireless communications, though Freescale, TI and Philips each support different specifications.

Freescale supports the UWB flavor sponsored by the UWB Forum, which utilizes direct sequencing UWB (DS-UWB), whereas Philips and TI are part of the opposing group at the newly merged MultiBand OFDM Alliance Special Interest Group (MBOA-SIG).

"Ultra Wide Band is a tremendously promising technology that will change the way we don't look at cables any more for at least the next 20 years," Freescale's Adams said.

Paul Marino, vice president and general manager of connectivity at Philips Semiconductor, went so far as to note that the future of Bluetooth will also be with UWB. He expects the next step for Bluetooth will be the adoption of the Bluetooth Software Profile scheme over UWB bandwidth, which will improve connection between various devices.

The panel also touched on a technology called Cognitive Radio, which could potentially solve the issue of limited spectrum availability.

Cognitive Radio is an advanced wireless technology "idea" that would enable a cellular radio device to "cognitively" adapt itself to use whatever spectrum may be available in a particular operating environment.

"Cognitive radio is not the next big thing," TI's Krenik said. "It's the thing after the next big thing."

Freescale's Adams notes that one of the issues with the continued growth of wireless is that spectrum is going to become scarce. That's the issue that Cognitive Radio solves.

"There is a lot of confusion about Cognitive Radio," said Krenik. "Some people think it's a way to take away spectrum rights from licensed holders, and nothing could be further from the truth. Cognitive Radio, when developed, will be a net positive for everyone."