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Grabbing the Brass Rings

Thu, 12/26/2002 - 8:58am

By Aimee Kalnoskas, Editorial Director, akalnoskas@reedbusiness.com
Understandably, many of us in the electronics business are looking for the next great "killer app." Recent history has programmed us to do so. I am going to step out on a limb here and suggest we lose that term. It is, after all, very 90s. Let's really get into the 21st century and face the fact that telecommunications itself is the killer application of electronics and that slump or no slump, wireless communications — and more importantly, wireless broadband in whatever forms it ends up on the shelf in — is our communications future. For the short term at least, there is no one method of wirelessly transmitting broadband data that is going to create another Bill Gates. It may be several complementary and not necessarily competing methods that corporate, small office/home office and consumers will use to wirelessly transmit data. The only thing that will be getting killed then is the time it takes to do so.

Four years ago when I visited Ericsson in Stockholm, all the buzz was Bluetooth. Frankly, I found more hope in making people understand where the term "Bluetooth" came from then getting multiple manufacturers to achieve interoperability with a newly adopted specification. Not that many didn't try and succeed; but more tried and failed. Perhaps the expectation level of a "killer app" contributed to some of these failures. Now, with many of the interoperability issues resolved and with chipset prices falling, technology that was designed to interconnect computers to any number of wireless devices has something of a foothold. Allied Business Intelligence (Oyster Bay, NY) expects Bluetooth chipset shipments to more than triple from 2001, reaching 33.8 million by the end of last year, and further forecasts that 2007 will see shipments of 1.1 billion chipsets. However, even analysts don't see Bluetooth as the solution for every application and many agree that there will be instances where Wi-Fi or ultrawideband technology will be more appropriate.

Following a set of design rules developed by the IEEE and formerly known as 802.11, the faster-than-Bluetooth Wi-Fi has its own set of well-known proponents. Topping the list is Intel who is expected to make Wi-Fi part of every device that carries an Intel processor. Although Intel recently delayed the launch of a Wi-Fi chip, the company is investing in other companies who are developing Wi-Fi products and is incorporating an 802.11(b) chip from Philips into its Calexico module due out later this year. Even with that heavyweight support, Wi-Fi chipsets are not expected to top $3 billion before 2006, making it just one percent of the worldwide market of telecom equipment. One percent of the market would hardly seem to make Wi-Fi the brass ring of wireless broadband that so many are grabbing at; yet the mentality of the "next big thing" is tough to get away from after so many years of "killer apps."

As we dive into another year of this new century feeling drowned by the uncertainty of the industry, it might be worth reconsidering the quest for the "big thing." Enough of the right "little things" can collectively have as impressive of an impact on our industry as that one bright and shiny brass ring.

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