Alan Weissberger Wireless

Engineering Our Wireless Future at the UC Berkeley Global Leadership Conference, November 18, 2011


With more than 5 billion users of mobile devices, the world has gone wireless in a big way. Wireless technologies are transforming communications, commerce, healthcare, energy use and other domains at an unprecedented rate. At this mini conference, two very high profile wireless industry leaders (Paul Jacobs and Arun Sarin) described the ubiquitous, reliable, secure and ultra-low power devices and networks that are changing our lives and shaping our wireless future.   The two presentations were followed by a panel session where the speakers interacted with UC Berkeley Engineering researchers to discuss wireless trends and future areas of research, including body area networks with sensors embedded in human beings.

Highlights of Dr Paul Jacobs (CEO of Qualcomm) talk:

  • Very excited about “swarms” of different wireless sensors that will be secure, protect our privacy, run on low power, and interact with smart phones. These sensors will have a fundamental impact on our lives as they are used to maintain our health, monitor environmental conditions in buildings, electric vehicles, etc. The sensors will be embedded in many different types of devices. Qualcomm is co-operating with UC Berkeley on research related to “Wireless Sensor Swarms.”
  • Qualcomm’s strategy is centered around the “Digital 6th Sense.” It focuses on the mobile phone as the personal device of choice- interacting with both cyberspace and the physical world in new ways, e.g. mobile computing, entertainment and education.
  • Wireless is mankind’s largest technology platform. It reaches people in the most remote locations- even villages and huts that don’t have electricity! Mobile is changing the world with camera phones, mobile Internet, mobile apps, tweets, etc.
  • Smart phone is the most disruptive technology in the world. It is causing technologies and industries to come together like never before.
  • Wireless connectivity is “the key thing” for mobile computing.
  • There are now 1.5B 3G connections out of 5G total mobiles. This is expected to grow to 1.7 3G connections by 2015 with 3G passing 2G connections in 2012! The 3G growth is coming mostly in emerging markets/ developing countries. (Author’s note: “connections” was not defined, but is assumed to be devices capable of making cellular network connections)
  • 10 to 12 X growth in mobile data traffic is predicted by 2015. (Editors Note: this seems to be a very conservative forecast).
  • Operators are being forced to roll out the latest wireless network technology (e.g. LTE) to cope with exploding mobile data demand.
  • LTE is currently available in 35 networks, with 185 additional committments from wireless network operators.
  • Expect multi-mode devices capable of handling 2G/3G/LTE/WiFi (no mention made of mobile WiMAX).
  • 3G to provide coverage where LTE will not be available.
  • WiFi offload will be critical complement to 3G/LTE to enable operators to cope with and manage the huge growth in mobile data traffic.
  • Smart phone growth being led by <$300 devices which are expected to grow at better than a 40% CAGR.
  • Smart phone sales in emerging regions are expected to grow by >40% CAGR each year through 2015.
  • Tablets are expected to grow from 48% to 78% from 2010 to 2015.
  • Windows 8 will be big for tablets and new notebooks with connected standby mode to conserve battery power.
  • HTML5 will be an important cross platform tool for writing new mobile applications. Mobile browser performance will be optimized. (Ediors Note:  Adobe has now ditched Flash for mobile devices in favor os HTML5).
  • “Internet of Everything” (AKA Internet of Things or IoT) will even include washing machines.
  • Mobile health/wireless health will be a huge market opportunity.
  • New radio access technology trends include: personal & body area networks, lower power consumption, precise location positioning & ranging, flexible network architectures including heterogeneous networks (mix of different cell/base station sizes), high security, proximity based point to point (like Near Field Communications) to be used for cash register payments via mobile devices.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) will require new user interfaces, image recognition algorithms. Will be used for games, advertising, merging cyberspace and real space through sensors & camera in smart phones. AR will blur the notion of cyberspace and real space.

Highlights of Arun Sarin (former CEO of Vodafone, now Sr Advisor with KKR) talk:

  • Started working in wireless industry in 1984 (before there really was a wireless industry).
  • 2007 was a “landmark year for the wireless industry with introduction of Apple’s 3G iPhone, HSPDA 3G networks offering 500K b/sec effective throughput, interesting content, mobile apps with integrated browsers.
  • The big explosion in wireless data traffic since 2007 has caused a lot of pieces to come together. Need a mobile ecosystem in place for wireless industry to flourish.
  • More value is going into data which is offseting decreased revenues from cellular voice
  • Opportunities abound in: smart phones, mobile OS’s, mobile apps, content, gaming.
  • Network infrastructure market is NOT growing rapidly due to competition & price pressures from Huawei and other low cost network equipment makers.

Two key questions for the wireless industry:

  1. In medium term, how will power in the mobile ecosystem change? In addition to the cellular operators, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon are now key players in the mobile ecosystem.
  2. Who will own the customer? Up till now, it’s been the cellular operator. The operator controls the phone and SIM card. In the U.S., the operator “locks” the subscriber into a long term contract-at least in the U.S. Revenue from those contracts is partially used to subsidize purchase of mobile phones. Remains to be seen if this strangle hold on the customer will change with all the new ecosystem players.

Winners and losers:

  1. Mobile OS/platform: Apple iOS and Android are clear winners. Windows Mobile has potential, especially with Nokia’s new phones using it. Need thousands of apps developed for a mobile OS for it to be commercially viable and entice more app developers.
  2. Devices: Apple, HTC, Samsung, Google/Motorola will do well in the future. What about Nokia, RIM, and others? Will those brands even exist in the future or will there be a big shakeout & disappearing act for also-rans?
  3. Infrastructure: Huawei, Ericsson (wireless infrastructure) and Cisco (switch/ routers) will survive, but what about the others, e.g. Alcatel-Lucent, NSN, etc? Further consolidation lies ahead (Author’s note: as if there hasn’t been enough consoldiation & blood letting already?)
  4. Mobile Operators: How many operators will be able to survive and provide sufficient network capacity to meet the explosive mobile data traffic growth? Here too, market consolidation is predicted with 2 big players and 1 or 2 smaller players for each geographical region.
  • LTE networks providing each subscriber with 5 to 7 M b/sec (downstream) will make many new things possible. These include: high resolution imaging, mobile sensor networks, 6th sense mobile devices (as Qualcomm’s Dr. Jacobs described in his talk which is summarized above).
  • Confident that operators will invest in true broadband wireless networks. Re-engineering the access network with smaller cells/ base stations wll be an important inititiative. “It’s one of the most cost effective ways of adding capacity.”
  • Wireless industry will move into new exciting areas like M2M communications/IoTs, sensor swarms, and other industrial markets. “Who needs to play here to make the service(s) come to light?”
  • There’s a balance between the ecosystem and value chain (entities that are deriving the revenues and profits from the services).
  • M2M market is potentially very large, but very fragmented. Key issues are: M2M services, costs, management & maintenance.
  • For industrial wireless markets, what are the horizontal (industry wide) vs vertical (industry specific) opportunities? Many of the opportunities for value creation will be highly vertical industry market segments, e.g. health care, building management, power management/smart grid.
  • It will be critically important for the requried hardware, software platform/OS, apps, wireless infrastructure to all be in place for effective delivery of the wireless business service(s).
  • Very optimistic on the “mobile wallet” and mobile payments. NFC chips, digital coupons, electronic loyalty programs, auto storage within mobile devices, etc. will come together and serve to accelerate this mobile payment movement. “This area will become quite big in the relatively near future.”
  • Mobile health care is predicted to be a particularly promising market segment.
  • There is plenty of wireless growth in emerging markets (AKA developing countries), such as India and Africa. But those countries have a very different wireless business model. It’s extremely low cost per month for cellular voice and SMS (texting) with a lot of network sharing (including spectrum) going on, e.g in India. There is not a lot or any operator subsidies for mobile phones. We may be able to learn from wireless emerging market experiences and bring successful concepts back to the U.S. wireless market.
  • SMS is used much more than the Internet for mobile data traffic in developing countries. M-Pesa in Kenya was cited as a very successful remote mobile payment system. It uses SMS to debit pre-paid wireless phone cards (most people in Kenya don’t have bank accounts, so use their wireless phone like a debit card of prepaid balances).
  • Future wireless industry trends will focus on: Mobile access to Cloud Computing services (especially Software/Application as a Service), social networking combined with LBS & advertising, mobile video & games.
  • FCC and other regulators will need to find more spectrum and license to mobile network operators to help cope with exponential mobile data traffic growth.
  • Privacy issues will become much more important, especially with location tracking combined with mobile social networking.
  • Each company must have a user based mobile strategy. One example for a merchant is how to give most loyal customers discounts on products ordered via mobile devices?
  • “Fun in the mobile/ wireless world has just begun. This is where the action is at and will be at for some time. Expect vigorous, intense competition along the way.”

Author’s Note:      Lack of time, energy and money precludes me from summarizing the ensuing panel session. However, I do have several pages of detailed notes and would be pleased to answer any questions readers might have on the panel discussion. Please submit your questions in the Comment box below this article.


The GTL Conference home page is at:

There is a link where you can watch individual segments of the talks and panel session.

Author Alan Weissberger

By Alan Weissberger

Alan Weissberger is a renowned researcher in the telecommunications field. Having consulted for telcos, equipment manufacturers, semiconductor companies, large end users, venture capitalists and market research firms, we are fortunate to have his critical eye examining new technologies.

4 replies on “Engineering Our Wireless Future at the UC Berkeley Global Leadership Conference, November 18, 2011”

Sounds like an interesting conference and panel. Thanks Alan for reporting on it.

The concept of the Body Area Network sounds with the smart phone as the hub for activity sounds interesting. I suppose the advent of Bluetooth headsets are the first incarnation of that concept. There are Bluetooth hearing aids as well, so these devices are literally becoming extensions of the human body. Of course, using wireless sensors for monitoring health and wellness may be the obvious application of BAN. Will be interesting to see what applications develop and take-hold.

Interesting also that we are seeing so much wireless innovation in the 3rd world. Things like M-Pesa probably couldn’t have probably been predicted, as they seem to bubble up the bottom; reminds me of the old agage about, “Necessity being the mother of invention.”

Thanks for your kind words. What I liked best about this 1/2 day confenrence was that (unlike the WCA VC panel) it addressed the mobile enterprise and industrial wireless network markets/ applications like eHealth, M2M communications, sensor swarms for connected devices, etc.

During the panel session, personal body networks were said to be about 10 years from commercial mass market use. We think there’ll be a lot of pushback before wireless sensors are implanted in humans. For that to happen in a big way, there needs to be clear proof/ evidence that lives can be saved by such invasive health monitoring.

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