The Consumer Electronics Show is often key indicator for what technologies and applications will shape the wireless networking sector for that particular year. And this year's CES show is no different with ultrawideband (UWB) and wireless LAN (WLAN) developers all using the show as a stage to show off where the wireless networking sector will head in 2005.
From CES, some clear trends are already starting to emerge. On the UWB front, chip vendors are moving away from simply developing silicon and fighting about specs toward showing off how UWB will shine when in real-life system deployments. As expected, VoIP is also a hot topic on the WLAN front, in particular due to the announcement by Vonage early in the week that it plans to offer wireless VoIP service. But, the real winner at CES for the wireless networking sector could be multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) smart antenna technology.
For years, RF and wireless developers have talked about the promise of MIMO technology, which combines an array of transmit and receive antennas and signal processing to increase spectral efficiency and throughput over wireless connections. The hype first started in the cellular sector in the late 90s, where operators and base station manufacturers began playing with the technology as a means to improve efficiency and throughput on a link. The WLAN sector has followed suit in the past few years, eyeing MIMO as a key technology for delivering the throughput necessary to support streaming media in Wi-Fi nets.
Until now, however, most of the MIMO discussions have been at the R&D level, with few companies in both camps actually deploying MIMO systems. But that changed at this year's CES show, at least for the WLAN sector. With the help of Airgo Networks chipset, Linksys, Netgear, and Belkin all showed off MIMO-enabled WLAN systems. And, with large OEMs like these already rolling out the technology, it's safe to say that other OEMs will bring MIMO systems to market, thus setting the stage for MIMO to be a big technology driver in 2005.
But, don't expect the rollout of MIMO to be a smooth path. Chipset like Airgo and Atheros are already fighting over what's "true" MIMO and what's not. And, some members of the sector, including the Wi-Fi Alliance, are starting to claim that the rollout of MIMO systems could hurt the development of the 802.11n spec.
Despite the fighting and pre-N questions, CES proved that there's no doubt that WLAN OEMs will start implementing MIMO in system designs. And that move could make it one of the most important technologies for the WLAN sector in 05.
Editor's Note: Do you really think the launch of MIMO systems will hurt the 802.11n development process? Let us know your thoughts in our online forum: "Will pre-.11n MIMO systems help or hurt?".