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Let’s Talk About Emerging Technologies

Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:40am

A couple of months back, I was on one of my "breather" weekend trips to Las Vegas. It’s about the only decent hot spot within a short flight from where I am located (Denver). It’s been a tradition for me and a few of my friends who like the glitz and entertainment (and a little gaming) to take a few of these long weekends during the year.


These details aren’t really of any consequence, but it gave me the opening to this month’s column. "Emerging technologies" are on everybody’s lips (and everybody’s pages, emails, web sites, etc.) nowadays. And frankly, they should be. New technologies are emerging in just about every industry, wireless and otherwise. That said, one of the things that caught my eye this last trip was an article in the Las Vegas Tribune. The title of the story was "Casinos Ready to Bet on the Wireless Chip. "


Now, I assumed I’d thought of a way for just about everything around me to utilize a wireless component (I’m going to invent a toilet paper roll holder with a miniature radio that can be accessed wirelessly. Can you see the potential in that? Anybody interested in a joint venture?) But I missed the wireless chip. And, this is the perfect complement to the recently approved usage of wireless handheld gaming devices in casinos. Blackjack by the pool, anyone?


I recently had a conversation with a contemporary who’s solidly grounded in LMR (land-mobile radio). Read: a licensed spectrum interest. He gave me an interesting number. He told me that unlicensed spectrum accounts for less than 2% of all spectrum. Well, that may be true (personally I think it’s a bit higher that that), but my reply was that unlicensed spectrum accounts for the majority of emerging technological developments (I couldn’t find any hard numbers, but I’m going to venture a guess that it’s way better than half of all development). This person also mentioned that there isn’t much margin in unlicensed technologies. Not necessarily true — but much of the press has been around things like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Zigbee, where there is pressure on costs and profit margins. But if one expands one’s horizons, there are "emerging markets" that pack potential. To quote the article, "Wireless devices mark another step for U.S. companies to enter the lucrative, but currently illegal, online gaming market " and "Mobile devices... could be another source of revenue for the casinos. "


One thing is clear: Looking for emerging technologies with only the obvious "wireless" component is fairly short-sighted, especially for the wireless industry. And emerging technologies aren’t always wireless. They can be part of any industry that affects wireless.


In semiconductors, for example, SoC isn’t new, but only recently has it been emerging as a realistic platform for wireless technologies because it has hit new milestones in frequency and growing techniques — similar for BiCMOS.


Broadband’s roots started in the wired space but has rapidly emerged as a viable alternative for a number of wireless applications and platforms. Why? Because wireless technology has evolved to allow the bandwidth demands to be met.


And aren’t "smartphones" an emerging market as well? But under the covers, they are just a meld of existing innovations in various technologies, allowing for smaller, lighter, more feature-packed devices. They integrate a number of technologies from plastics, conductive inks (eventually) and manufacturing refinements, as well as wireless technologies.


Other examples of emerging technology are the innovations we see in MEMS and nanotechnology. Essentially, these are the technologies that will see SoCs emerge.


We all know that any number of factors can affect a technology. It emerges when its variables hit sweet spots in metrics such as frequency, power, manufacturability and such. And we often see marketing get a bit of mileage out of the term just because it has become a buzz word.


So, now we can say that the gaming industry has emerging wireless applications. From the perspective I’ve just taken, the wireless industry is likely to see a boatload of emerging technologies as this decade draws to a close — many of which will raise an eyebrow (back to the wireless toilet paper roll holder). The real issue is to understand the metrics around what is called emerging technologies.


True knowledge consists of understanding what constitutes emerging technologies, as well as considering the peripheral technologies and how they impact emerging technologies and markets — across all bands, frequencies, technologies and applications. What we all need to keep in mind is that getting on that emerging markets bandwagon just for the sake of capitalizing on the movement, without knowing the intricacies of the industries as a whole, can be more of a liability than an asset.


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