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Presentation at IEEE 802.11 portends an inevitable future Wi-Fi that will utilize ultrawideband frequencies

Monday 30 July 2012 @ 6:01 am

In the world of wireless communications the term UWB is often mistaken for the WiMedia or ECMA wireless standard or the unsuccessful Wireless USB standard championed by Intel in 2005. UWB actually stands for ultrawideband. The FCC defines ultrawideband as any radio transmission that utilizes at least 500MHz of contiguous radio spectrum. WiMedia and Wireless USB are examples of UWB, but there are other examples of UWB including the PHYs supported in the recently published 802.15.6 Body Area Network standard (a pulse based UWB wave form) and the WiGig 60GHz standard.

At the recent IEEE meeting held in San Diego on July 17th, there was an evening session to discuss the possibility of utilizing the unlicensed ultrawideband frequencies from 6-9GHz as a future extension of Wi-Fi. These presentations were not proposing to adopt the earlier WiMedia efforts as an extension of Wi-Fi, rather they discussed the technical and marketing issues of extending the Wi-Fi frequency range to the 6-9GHz ultrawideband frequencies. Though 802.11ac is only just coming to market the 5GHz spectrum is expected to become quickly over crowded, much like 2.4GHz is overcrowded today. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that AC uses very wide channels that use a great deal of spectrum for speed, the fact that more and more tablets, smartphones and HDTVs will use AC for video thereby clogging the spectrum, and the possibility that Wi-Fi Direct will become popular thus using up even more spectrum. Based on all these market dynamics, and the fact that it takes many years to develop extensions of an international standard, the time is not far off when Wi-Fi will need more spectrum; that is where UWB frequencies come in. As a result of the FCC’s original ruling making UWB frequencies are available in the USA and most major countries. The common frequency bands across these countries generally are from 6GHz to 9GHz and are authorized in countries such as the USA, Canada, UK, the EU, China, Korea, Japan, Russia and many others. The transmit power permitted in this frequency band is small compared to what is authorized today for Wi-Fi, yet by utilizing greater than 500MHz of spectrum the in-room data rates are similar to what 802.11ac can achieve. Moreover, an added benefit of using 500MHz of spectrum is that power efficiency can be improved, which is ideal for mobile in-room applications such as smartphone, gaming controller and tablet connectivity.

Alereon spoke at the IEEE meeting, presenting real measured data on our chips that operate in the 6 – 9GHz frequency bands achieving data rates on the desktop up to 1Gbps, from a couch to an HDTV of many 100s of Mbps, and across a room sufficiently to transmit compressed 1080P video at a higher throughput and lower latency than today’s Wi-Fi video streaming links. The presentation went on to project that with some proposed enhancements in technology that are similar to new techniques found in 802.11ac, that data rates of 4 or 8Gbps could be achieved on the desktop or in close proximity for applications such as photo sharing, and many hundreds of Mbps could be transmitted very robustly in an average room. Other presentations essentially proposed the IEEE should consider forming a group to consider the development of an “AC+” extension for in room applications, such as Wi-Fi Direct or other personal area connectivity or wireless video applications. The proposal for an AC+ was not meant to detract from the already completed 802.11ad efforts that use ultrawideband frequencies up around 60GHz to extend Wi-Fi. Rather the proposal was made to increase the spectrum capacity of Wi-Fi for in-room applications while focusing infrastructure applications in the existing 5GHz range. Finally, it should be noted that not all countries derive the same benefit from extending 802.11ac to the new 5GHz frequencies as others. In particular China, the world’s most populated country with the highest urban densities and the highest sales of smartphones also has 80% less available spectrum at 5GHz than most other countries. So this proposal to utilize ultrawideband spectrum should look particularly interesting to Chinese constituencies.

The IEEE works in mysterious ways often fraught with non-technical considerations based on the interests of large and influential companies. Like many good ideas, it is likely to take time for this idea to gestate. That said, to me it seems this idea has a certain element of inevitability to it. For companies like Alereon, which have familiarity with UWB frequencies and have built chips that can make highly useful wireless connections in these unlicensed frequency bands, we know how valuable this spectrum can be. For other companies however, there is a fear of the unknown. However the continued consumer demand for new applications with more video and more wireless connectivity, in the constant pursuit of a Life without Wires™, makes it inevitable that the IEEE will someday utilize UWB spectrum. There simply isn’t any other unlicensed spectrum available.

Let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading. — EB

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With Windows Phone 8 and the Surface tablet, the Microsoft Giant Stirs from its Slumber

Tuesday 10 July 2012 @ 5:57 am

Over the last few years Microsoft has been kicked in the shins repeatedly by Apple’s success with the iPad and iPhone (not to mention the Macbook Air) and Google Android’s runaway success in the handset space.  However, with the recent introduction of the Surface tablet, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 software, integration of Xbox online gaming into Windows 8 and the forthcoming general release of Windows 8, I believe Microsoft is poised for a dramatic resurgence over the next few years.

In the enterprise, RIM used to be the phone of choice. Unfortunately for RIM they have made some huge strategic blunders over the past few years and committed the equivalent of corporate hari-kari. This leaves a large opportunity for smartphones in the enterprise. Yes, the iPhone is better than it was for mail integration, as is Android, but neither platform is really the IT managers dream OS for the enterprise. Enter Windows Phone 8. Nokia introduced a precursor to Windows Phone 8 including the Metro interface and users who have purchased the Nokia Lumina [with its Metro interface] have found it to be exceptionally usable. With Windows Phone 8 MS has improved Metro, brought forward the apps that ran on Windows 7.5, but far more importantly, they have also brought in to Windows Phone 8 much of the enterprise management capability that is in Windows 7 and in the forthcoming enterprise version of Windows 8. The ramifications are clear. For major enterprises that provide phones to their employees, Windows Phone 8 will become the dominant phone OS of choice because of its tight and relatively seamless integration with Windows 8 in the enterprise. But for the IT manager, it gets better. The new MS Surface tablet looks like a real winner.  With an integrated slim keyboard and a brilliant choice of tablet covers this becomes a real tablet for the enterprise market. Now when the sales team or corporate execs demand the IT department to supply them a tablet, i.e. when they ask for an iPad, the IT department will ship them a Surface instead.  Why?  Because it will integrate seamlessly with the company’s enterprise applications. The availability of Metro smartphones, the Surface tablet not to mention ultrabooks – all running versions of Windows 8, will cause the enterprise to become a bastion of the Metro interface. Volumes of Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 tablets will surge.

All well and good you might say, but how about consumers?  Clearly Apple is cool, Google is pretty cool. Microsoft, at best, is thought of as stodgy and has become the middle aged IBM IT company they used to battle against.  Not so fast.  In the home today, the battle of the game consoles has narrowed down to Microsoft and Sony. Microsoft introduced the Kinect to great critical acclaim and sold 10 million units record time. Moreover, Microsoft has tons of cash in the bank and is vigorously working to improve the Xbox experience. They are currently #1 in game consoles and clearly have yet unknown plans to gain even more market share. Sony by contrast is not flush with cash and as a company is bleeding badly. In addition Sony has had major management changes over the last few years which inevitably will play out as a loss of competitiveness to Microsoft. So how does this help Microsoft in the consumer world? First, as MS brings Xbox LIVE applications into Metro they make it easier for consumers to choose a future Windows Phone 8 or Surface tablet because of the integration capabilities with Xbox LIVE. Second, as people bring their enterprise devices [Windows 8-based] home from work, more consumers will begin to standardize on just one kind of widget – Windows 8 – instead of 2 or 3. Third, the Windows Phone 8 and Surface introductions clearly demonstrate that Microsoft has broken down the classic hard walled business unit silos that commonly evolve in mega-companies in order to leverage their strengths in order to provide the integration they are demonstrating now with Windows 8. This is a very, very clear leading indicator that there are other future integrations yet to come that we haven’t seen yet between future Xbox products and the rest of the Win 8 products on the Redmond campus. I don’t know what these products are, but if the recent Microsoft announcements are any indication there are some compelling new applications and products coming over the next year or so.

How do these developments at MS change the future?  Who are the winners and losers? One of the winners will be both consumers and enterprise users. Microsoft will also benefit. Other winners will be Samsung and Qualcomm, they will certainly supply chips to these products. On the losing side will be RIM, though they are essentially dead already. Also losing something here will be Intel, Apple, Google and Sony. Huh? I am NOT saying that Microsoft’s strategy will dramatically hurt Intel, Apple or Google.  However in market share terms they will each lose some share in their dominant market space. Intel will be selling less CPUs because ARM based CPUs from Samsung, Qualcomm and Nvidia will be in many of the Windows Phone 8 smartphones and tablets. In addition, Microsoft’s OS in the future won’t be only tied to Intel’s X86. As Microsoft gains share in the smartphone and tablet enterprise market segments they will take share from the Apple and Google juggernaut. Finally, as the Xbox gains market share in the consumer market, whatever Microsoft is planning in addition to MS LIVE integration will certainly help them gain mind share with consumers.

Finally, what does this all mean for a future world of “Life without Wires”? I have some thoughts here – but let’s leave that for the next installment.

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UWB – A 10 Year Anniversary on Valentine’s Day 2012

Friday 9 March 2012 @ 1:02 pm

Ten years ago on February 14th, the FCC issued new regulations that authorized the use of unlicensed underlay spectrum from 3.1 to 10.6GHz in the United States. The EU, China, Japan, Korea, the UK, Canada, Russia and many other countries soon followed with some restrictions to the upper portion of the US frequency band.

On the 10th anniversary of UWB it is worth taking a look back at the progress UWB has made and the technologies current market status. UWB was authorized during the booming growth of Wi-Fi in laptops, a growth accelerated by Intel’s highly successful Centrino TV and print marketing campaign. Using the lessons learned by Wi-Fi, UWB moved from FCC authorization to silicon rapidly (by wireless technology standards), with the first true worldwide silicon being shipped in a product by Alereon in Q3 of 2008, only six years after the initial FCC rule making.

On the heels of the explosion of Wi-Fi, UWB came to market with hopes of its own explosion focused on eliminating desktop cables and the distribution of video in the living room. Things don’t always work out the way you plan and UWB was slow to be adopted for these primary applications.

There were a number of reasons for the slow adoption of UWB technology. First, the success of Wi-Fi had already established a viable wireless technology that could provide convenience for consumers. True, it was at a much slower data rate and higher power consumption, and it wasn’t capable of replacing a USB cable, but Wi-Fi was widely available, and importantly, it was cheaper. It had taken many years for Wi-Fi to find the right application (laptop to access point for internet access) to refine the cost of the chips, address security concerns, improve the speed, and reduce the power to a point that the technology was ubiquitous. The problem was that UWB hadn’t had a sufficient market gestation period to find the most compelling applications and move down the cost curve.

UWB did in fact learn from the technical history of Wi-Fi. The first products that implemented the initial specifications (such as the Alereon AL5300) did in fact deliver compelling capabilities – a 480Mbps PHY rate at modest range and delivered throughput, depending on protocol, ranging from 220 Mbps to over 300Mbps using a single antenna. Much higher than even today’s Wi-Fi. Moreover, UWB was designed specifically for reliably transferring streaming data, such as video and audio, and to support TCP/IP traffic and USB traffic as well as native data transfers without colliding in the air. Both of these factors made it a much better performing choice in streaming to monitors and HDTVs. In addition, UWB was designed to avoid interference, making it a much better choice for high density deployments (think office cubicles), a common problem for Wi-Fi. With all these advantages, however, the first products were more expensive than Wi-Fi; even if the first UWB chips were generally 10X faster. This cost issue was the primary impediment for broad based initial adoption. UWB did in fact find its compelling application markets fairly quickly – wireless docking and wireless monitors w/docking. However, Wi-Fi had established the price points which consumers were willing to pay for the convenience of wireless and the initial price points of UWB in 2008 were simply too expensive for high volume adoption.

The final cause for slower adoption was the belief that the marketing muscle of Intel alone could make UWB successful in its first attempt. In the fall of 2008 as the UWB community was doing some soul searching as to how to move the market. The world was hit by the largest recession since the invention of semiconductors in the 1950s. Intel chose to abandon its UWB efforts and with the band leader gone essentially every large semiconductor company but one abandoned their internal UWB efforts, followed quickly by the collapse of all but two of the startup UWB companies. This had the predictable domino effect on market perception of the basic technology and of the capabilities of the spectrum itself.

So where are we now? Since 2008 Alereon has reduced the cost of UWB by 60%, the power consumption by 50% and the size of UWB by 85%. Last year Samsung brought to market three very innovative wireless monitors with integrated docks, CA750 23″ and 27″ Central Station, and the CA650 enterprise wireless monitor. In 2012 at CES Samsung announced even more advanced wireless monitors, the new Series 7 Smart Station, which includes support for a wireless connection from an Apple laptop and the ability to tether Android devices. Other major monitor brand names are sure to follow Samsung’s lead. In addition, Alereon has introduced a new 1Gbps capable UWB chip that has 2X the range of the original UWB chips, and recently demonstrated an Android smartphone wirelessly connecting from a belt clip to a prototype wireless monitor – giving the user support for a keyboard and mouse and essentially making their Smartphone a “pocketable PC”.

Looking back UWB’s market adoption cycle is in fact mimicking Wi-Fi’s. Though the standardization effort was faster and the first silicon efforts were faster, the inevitable need to cost reduce, refine and improve the first instantiation of the technology could not be made appreciably quicker. UWB required a time honored learning cycle, just like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Hype can be sped up – but consumer feedback and new chips – not so much.

So what is the future for UWB on this 10th anniversary of the FCC regulatory approval? The future in fact is bright. UWB certainly does not compete with Wi-Fi, it compliments Wi-Fi and can do things Wi-Fi wasn’t designed for. My own UWB based wireless monitor has been on my desk for 8 months. The wireless link works just like my old trusty VGA cable PLUS I have no docking station on my desk; all my USB peripherals are attached to the base of my monitor and are out of sight behind the back of my desk. Wi-Fi simply can’t do that. With the availability of 3 GHz of unlicensed spectrum UWB will continue to improve. 480Mbps shipping today, 1Gbps soon, 2Gbps in 2013 and ultimately much faster yet. 130nm to 90nm to our current 65nm chips and designing our next products for even deeper lithography to double the data rates, lower cost, add USB3.0 support, etc., etc.

Though lithography and consumer desires continue to change, physics doesn’t. UWB continues to benefiting from Wi-Fi’s ubiquity and the resultant interference and congestion that reduce Wi-Fi’s performance. New customers in industrial, medical, automotive and military applications are engaging with UWB technology due to its unique streaming characteristics and immunity from Wi-Fi interference and congestion. Ultimately, UWB will be shipping in 100s of millions of units. The ramp to these volumes won’t have taken any longer than it took Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. However the widely held perception that hype alone can make a semiconductor market happened sooner has been proven wrong once again. Like good wine, good standards, like UWB, get better with age.

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The Smartphone – on the verge of “Killing” the PC Laptop at CES January 2012

Tuesday 3 January 2012 @ 6:40 am

OK, so maybe my headline is a bit of hyperbole – but then again perhaps not as much as you may think. Five years ago, in December 2006, I wrote a blog outlining how new high performance mobile CPUs being announced by Qualcomm together with future high resolution screens coming to smartphones, that for many users and for many applications a smartphone could be a substitute for a laptop – with the exception of the keyboard and the screen size. I went on to assert that someday UWB’s ability to reliably stream video and data could enable an era where you walked in to your office and your smartphone would auto-connect to a wireless monitor. You’d sit down to your trusty keyboard, and you would browse the web, write your emails, work on a PowerPoint presentation, etc. – all without ever turning on your laptop or your PC. Instead, you’d be using the smarts of your high performance phone and the smartphone’s cellular and Wi-Fi to connect to the internet or the corporate network. This could be a great model for many people who don’t need to crunch monster spreadsheets on their laptops.

I am happy to say that some five years later Alereon will be demonstrating an early yet highly functional version of this capability in a few weeks at CES in January using a currently popular Android smartphone and Alereon’s UWB streaming wireless technology. We have developed a kit that enables a user to mirror their applications on their wireless monitor and also use the keyboard and mouse, and even have a USB hard drive attached to the base of the wireless monitor for extra storage from the phone. Because Alereon’s solution uses UWB, the monitor faithfully displays the contents up on the monitor without artifacts and glitches caused by heavy Wi-Fi interference. The monitor behaves like it is connected to the phone by a cable; albeit a very magical and invisible cable. Like any early product it isn’t perfect yet, and more importantly, it isn’t yet a shipping product – but it could be. You can mirror your screen and do your type your email or text messages, you can scroll from screen to screen, you can click on application icons, you can view photos, browse the web, play angry birds up on the big monitor if you wish – all while using a real keyboard and mouse. Then simply get up and walk away from your wireless monitor. For the enterprise user, you can take an extra step and add the capability that Motorola Mobility/Google demonstrated last year with their Atrix – but you’d do everything wirelessly and with a much nicer monitor. The Atrix approach adds a Citrix app that connects you into the corporate network applications. Very cool. Now you really don’t need a laptop – even in the enterprise.

Naturally this same capability can also be adapted to the new Windows Mobile Mango platform, and can also support Android or Windows 8 tablets as well. We’d also love an invite from the folks on Infinite Loop in Cupertino…

Check back later in 2012. Perhaps our prototype will have shipped as a real product. Time will tell. In the mean time I just gotta have one.

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Steve Jobs’ Full Legacy Yet to be Written – What is Coming Next . . .

Monday 31 October 2011 @ 5:43 am

Steve Jobs’ has left a legacy that is hard to capture. His vision and product from Pixar to Apple are still growing. It is also widely believed that there are more cool products in the pipeline that have Steve’s touch to them – such as a rumored Apple iOS central HDTV. This blog however addresses what I believe will be a tectonic shift in the high technology ecosystem which is likely to happen over the next 12 months. It is my conjecture that Apple is building a highly customized multi-core ARM processor suitable for a future MacBook Air – and one that displaces Intel in the entry level platforms in the process. Much as Apple moved from PowerPC to X86, now Apple is getting ready to move over to its own in-house “uber-ARM” silicon for the next MacBook.

Just to set the record straight I have no inside information of any kind. What I do see however are indications that Apple and TSMC are doing a lot of chatting. Many tech types, which are not semiconductor folks, have speculated that Apple is dropping Samsung because of the legal issues (re: lawsuits) between the companies. Given the volume of Apple’s wafer consumption that simply isn’t possible. A logical explanation however is that the Apple A series, including the rumored new A6 quad core which are the focus of the iPhone and the iPad, are going to continue to be designed by Apple’s Intrinsity team and built by. The TSMC industry scuttle-butt is better explained by conjecturing that the former PA Semiconductor team (now an Apple team) is planning to build a new uber-ARM chip at TSMC. Moreover, if you look at the very long history of the PA Semi team part of their modus operandi is to use TSMC models, build specialty transistors, libraries and data paths, and build the highest performance yet lowest power consumption/MHz processor possible. They did this for the original StrongARM, they did this at SyByte using a MIPS processor and finally using the Power architecture at PA Semi. It only seems reasonable to guess they are using the same playbook at Apple – but most likely using ARM. There is also a chance, given that Apple’s OS ran for years on the Power architecture, that PA Semi is simply morphing their original networking oriented Power chip into an uber-Power chip.

In any case, don’t be surprised when Apple announces a future MacBook Air that uses an internally designed “uber-chip” done by the PA Semi team that displaces Intel from the entry level Apple laptops. That will indeed be a tectonic shift in the technology landscape – and Steve’s legacy will only grow that much larger because of it. Never under estimate Steve’s vision – even if it means taking away some of Intel’s business.

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Google Buys Motorola Mobility – Is this the Gee-Phone deal?

Wednesday 17 August 2011 @ 11:02 am

There is a lot of speculation in the industry as to what is behind the Google purchase of Motorola Mobility and likewise a plethora of speculation on the future of Motorola Mobility now that they are part of Google. Though speculation about Google wanting to take on Apple’s iPhone is rampant this deal is clearly about patents and defending Android and not about Google’s new CEO wanting to jump into the hardware game with Apple. Recently Google missed out on the purchase of Nortel patents with the highest bidder being a consortium which spent $4.5B for Nortel’s patents. For Google the purchase of Motorola Mobility was simple math – for $12B they could have the undisputed premiere mobile patent portfolio AND buy a cell phone business and its revenue to boot. Pretty gutsy move.

To me, when it comes to a future of Life without Wires™, what is most interesting to ponder is the future of Motorola Mobility. For Dr. Sanjay Jah, Motorola’s CEO this acquisition may be like a kid being locked in the candy store. Sanjay is the “Steve Jobs” of Motorola Mobility and is Motorola’s visionary. With the acquisition he doesn’t have to worry about quarterly earnings prep, etc the same way as the CEO of a public company. Sanjay will have more time to focus on his business and is likely to have more cash to spend on software oriented R&D for his products. He will be able to further simplify the lineup of Motorola phones and will also naturally be pushed to take Android to new heights. Sanjay is just the guy to do it. I also anticipate he will direct further innovation with the unique Atrix cell phone and align it more with Chrome books going forward.

For Google, it is not in their best economic interest to become the gee-wiz-phonemaker compared to Apple by betting singly on Motorola and pushing aside the likes of HTC, Samsung, LG and others. Google does best when 100s of millions of cell phone users have Google Android in the palm of their hand and use Google Mail, Voice, Search, Plus and future services. They also do best when the various handset makers compete to best the iPhone. The Android ecosystem diversity is what helps Google win and driven Android to 50% market share in the smartphone market as of last quarter. In summary, expect Google to let Sanjay steer the Motorola smartphone division to be a leading edge Android provider, much as they are today, but to benefit from Google’s software and cash. Don’t expect Google to do anything to harm their relationship with Samsung, LG, HTC and the like. What you can certainly expect is Google to bring out the Motorola cellular patent portfolio blunderbuss and point it at anyone who wants to harm Google’s Android momentum.

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Samsung Central Station – the Future of Desktop Monitors Goes Wireless

Thursday 7 July 2011 @ 4:53 am

Of all of the important electronic gizmos in our life that we use every day most have gone wireless – with the exception of the desktop monitor. Our phones are wireless, our laptops are wireless, and recently higher-end HDTVs have added wireless capabilities for accessing Netflix and select internet sites. Now, with the shipment of the Samsung Central Station at Best Buy a few weeks ago, users have the opportunity to enjoy the inherent convenience of a wireless connection between their laptop and their LED monitor.

For those unfamiliar with the Central Station (4.4 stars out of 5.0 on Best Buy as of this writing), it is an ultra-bright 23″ or 27″ 1920 x 1080P LED monitor with a built in USB docking station in the base of the unit that supports audio in/out, many USB ports and an Ethernet port out the back. The unit also accepts both HDMI and VGA inputs if the user prefers not to use the wireless feature. The wireless feature itself is provided by a very small (<1″) dongle that plugs into the users laptop or PC. The dongle is small enough to be left in the laptop all the time; even when the laptop is closed.

The beauty is that the user doesn’t need to plug and unplug a bunch of cables into their laptop every time they come in and out of their office or study – nor do you need to buy an expensive clunky (and proprietary) docking station. Setup is easy. One pushbutton on the base tells the monitor to enable wireless connectivity, one mouse click, and you are connected. From then on, walk into the office, and zing – the monitor wirelessly connects using a 7GHz UWB link that is immune to interference from Wi-Fi. Walk out of the office, and the wireless link disconnects and the monitor goes dark. It’s that simple.

I purchased my unit for $349.00 a few weeks ago and really like it. I find myself taking my laptop to more meetings because the docking and undocking is so simple. I may get one for my home as well – so that everyone in the house can use their laptop with one central big screen monitor with all of the peripherals neatly plugged into the base of the monitor. Even though the link between the laptop and the monitor is wireless there is no latency, and I don’t get video glitches or pauses with videos like I do with WiFi on my HDTV. Since the wireless monitor operates in frequencies above those used for WiFi I don’t get any interference (or performance impact) from the multiple WiFi access points around me. My IT Manager is happy as well since my wireless monitor (and those of others) is not stepping all over the corporate WiFi network. The UWB link provides for a true wireless cable replacement that is as good as my old VGA cable used to be – but a lot more convenient. The Samsung Central Station certainly brings us much closer to Life without Wires™ and as the market leader and innovator in desktop monitors it seems certain others will follow Samsung’s lead over the coming year. Time will tell.

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Is the Last Mile Going Wireless?

Wednesday 1 June 2011 @ 4:59 am

Recently I read the April 2011 edition of the Deutsche Bank newsletter Signals to Investors that covered testing of cellular data speeds in various parts of the US. The testing included Sprint, the T-Mobile 4G network and Verizon’s LTE network. The results of the Verizon LTE testing in particular caught my interest as regards a future Life without Wires™. In particular, the data demonstrated that for the locations tested Verizon’s average upload speed was over 7 Mbps and the average download speed was in excess of 13 Mbps; far ahead of their competition. Verizon has a few different data plans, a 5GB per month plan is $50, a 10GB per month data plan is $80 and a 20GB per month data plan is only $90. To put these plans into perspective, according to recent data published in a Cisco white paper, the average US consumer uses 12GB per month of bandwidth. In addition, ATT has stated that only 2 percent of their users exceed 18GB per month. Contrasting these wireless services with wireline DSL and cable plans and you will find they typically cost $50 to $60 per month and don’t have a data limit.

What all this data suggests is that if you are a light user of data you could easily switch to Verizon’s 5GB per month data plan, have the added convenience of wireless, and pay nothing extra. Moreover, this data also suggests that Verizon’s 20GB/month plan at $90 may very well be an attractive plan for cord cutters. In particular younger cable subscribers who are comfortable consuming Hulu, NetFlix movies and other forms of online content and aren’t addicted to the cable companies content will be really attracted to this type of service. It is very conceivable that dropping $50 to $100 of cable programming services per month in favor of using the web for over-the-top content and thus cutting the cable would be a more cost effective and convenient way to consume content. I can easily imagine young professionals and young families who would find the wireless convenience of a Verizon LTE data service lower cost and a generally superior offering to their current plan. Even professionals whose employer may subsidize their basic 5GB wireless data plan may decide the convenience of wireless is too great to resist. These over-the-top content alternatives are made even more viable by products such as the Imation Link or the new Intel WiDi-2 laptop-to-TV product that can be used with brand new Sandybridge based laptops to stream internet content to an HDTV.

In summary, for as long as I have been around data communications, which is more than two decades, there has been this fantasy that wireless technology would one day be a viable substitute for other “last mile” technologies. Given the performance and economics of Verizon’s LTE network, it seems we are on the threshold of that era where the convenience and cost effectiveness of wireless will be a viable alternative to using DSL or Cable data and content services. We are that much closer to Life without Wires.

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What the SiBeam Acquisition means about 60GHz and WiGig

Thursday 21 April 2011 @ 11:50 am

Being the CEO of a wireless startup company I have already been asked multiple times about the meaning, from a technology and market perspective, of the acquisition of SiBeam by Silicon Image for $25.5M. In the simplest terms the answer is very simple – 60GHz is not ready for high volume in consumer products for many years to come. Period.

SiBeam has been and still is the only company that has built and successfully shipped a product based on 60GHz technology. They have shipped their first two generations of silicon and have a new WiGig compatible generation coming very soon. So why the low price for the leading company in the 60GHz space? Simple, Silicon Image was not driven to buy SiBeam because customers were clamoring for SiBeam’s products. If there were near-term market demand the price would have been higher. To me the low cost of the acquisition said exactly the opposite; there is no significant market demand any time soon.

There is another reason that contributes to my belief the market for 60GHz products is still a ways off. SiBeam has been up for sale for a minimum of six months; in that timeframe every semiconductor company you can imagine had an invitation to examine the company, its customers, technology and prospects in excruciating detail. Again, why would the price be so low? Simple – all of the companies that took a look concluded that based upon what it costs to build a 60GHz solution versus what customers are willing to spend wouldn’t pay out for many years to come. If SiBeam was already doing 10s of millions in sales, or had $50M of Tier-1 business lined up for 2012 – then given current market multiples the company would have been sold for between $50M and $200M. It wasn’t. Again, this indicates there are no high volume customers in the near term. The market message and consensus from all of the semi companies that looked at SiBeam is that 2013 to 2015 is the soonest you will see any volume for 60GHz – and perhaps later – because trust me – all wireless products take longer to ramp than you might think.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not slamming Silicon Image here or SiBeam. As an entrepreneur I think the SiBeam team has accomplished an incredible feat of engineering. Kudos to them for their achievement. Likewise, given the wireless HDMI and WiGig capabilities of the SiBeam solution and Silicon Image’s market strategy this acquisition is a perfect match between the two companies.

Something to consider is that this sale says as much about consumers as it does the 60GHz market. In particular, wireless technologies are always more about convenience than they are about “must have”. As a result, convenience technologies are very price sensitive. As I stated up front, this sale tells the story that 60GHz is just too far away from the right solution cost point, so therefore is many years away from high volume. Radio spectrum is always valuable – so 60GHz will get used. But not right away. Check back in 2014 and we might be getting there. SiBeam has managed to execute on a herculean technical challenge – but consumers just aren’t ready to pay the price for the convenience. Market conditions allow acquirers such as Silicon Image, in their own pursuit of “life without wires”, to only have to pay a modest price.

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Darwin predicts a New World Order for Tech Computing: Nvidia, Android and ARM

Tuesday 15 March 2011 @ 6:21 am

This years CES and the recently completed Mobile World Congress in Barcelona indicate that we are on the verge of a tipping point in the computing ecosystem versus what we have known for the past 20 years. The future growth of technology won’t be driven from the Win-tel alliance as it has been. Rather, we are moving to a world where ARM multiprocessors and Android OS flavors will dominate in both smartphones, tablets, consumer netbooks and even Apple laptops. Intel and Microsoft will lose their dominance and transform into just another large company participating in the technology fray, but will no longer tower over an entire ecosystem.

This transformation is a result of the forces of competition and Darwin acting in the marketplace; along with the quest for search engine dollars that subsidize OS development. In particular, we see new CPUs being introduced from Nvidia, Qualcomm, TI, Samsung, Marvel and Apple-based on the ARM processor targeted at smartphones and tablets. Simultaneously, we see Android quickly evolving from a basic smartphone OS into a tablet OS that can work reasonably well in the netbook marketplace. At the same time, we have Microsoft demonstrating an early prototype of Windows-8 running on an ARM processor in parallel with the once mighty Nokia succumbing to market share losses and their inability to build a true smartphone adopting Windows Mobile for their future smartphones. The Darwinian nature of the competition among multiple vendors to supply ever superior ARM based SOCs will result in some of the chip companies delivering chips superior in price, performance and battery efficiency versus Intel’s efforts with Medfield to crack into the smartphone world. Moreover, the drive to support tablets using the same form of chip will result in a spillover effect into the netbook market; and in Apples case, even into the Laptop market.

As Android penetrates the hearts and minds of young consumers, they will feel at home with Android and of course Apple’s OS, leaving Windows to the over 30 crowd. Moreover, as ARM CPUs continue to evolve and innovate, with Nvidia and Qualcomm at the forefront, we are very likely to see the Apple PA Semi team build a multi-core ARM CPU that will run Apple’s OS that will displace Intel from Apple 13″ laptops in the future. Other PC OEMs will use Nvidia CPUs on entry laptops running Windows-8, and netbooks and below will run on Android. Over time, Microsoft and Intel will get pushed into being in the server business and into the Enterprise markets, with the consumer market becoming dominated by ARM CPUs, Android and Apple OS.

Don’t get me wrong, Intel isn’t going anywhere. They are still a manufacturing power house; which is their true strength. They may begin to wish they hadn’t sold off their ARM team to Marvel as they steadily lose market share and relevance in the consumer market segment. Likewise, Microsoft will give it the valiant fight – but Nokia won’t be enough to stem the onrushing tide of the Android tsunami and the plethora of innovative ARM CPUs coming to smartphones, tablets and netbooks – not to mention Apple Laptops.

The tech winners will be nVidia on CPUs, Qualcomm for smartphones and of course Apple. The real winners will be consumers.

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