SAN FRANCISCO The wave of wireless LAN (WLAN) in consumer applications is just beginning and will have a profound affect on the lives of consumers, according to an industry analyst and executives at fabless semiconductor supplier Marvell.
"When you look at the consumer adoption of wireless technologies, we are still in the infancy," said Mario Morales, vice president of semiconductor research at IDC Corp.
Last year, Morales said, less than 1 percent of consumer electronics applications contained WLAN. By 2009, he said, as much as 20 percent of the overall wireless market will be driven by consumer products.
Paramesh Gopi, general manager of Marvell's embedded and emerging business unit, sees WLAN, or WiFi, as the future backbone of the modern home. "We are going to see WiFi going into devices that I never imagined," Gopi said.
Similar to what he told EE Times in March, Morales said the current wave of consumer application adoption of WLAN is being driven by things like Sony Corp.'s new PlayStation Portable and other gaming devices. But he envisions a future in which home electronics such as gaming consoles, DVD recorders and digital televisions all utilize WLAN to "connect and stream the media that they are accumulating."
Though hesitant to "pre-announce customers' products," Gopi said he was excited about the forthcoming applications that incorporate Marvell's single-chip WLAN device.
Marvell rolled out a 90-nanometer version of the chip promising ultra-low power consumption on July 20, a move that Morales believes will help them remain ahead of competitors in the consumer WLAN space. Though the company was late to the game on WLAN overall, Morales said Marvell is benefiting from its decision to go immediately after the consumer space while competitors Broadcom Corp. and Atheros Communications Inc. continued to concentrate on enterprise applications. Moving to 90-nm ahead of the competition, he said, will enable Marvell to increase penetration in new consumer devices.
Morales pointed to Marvell's big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January when it announced that its WLAN chip is powering Sony's PlayStation Portable as a significant win for Marvell that has propelled the company's consumer WLAN momentum. He noted that the company also scored a big win as part of Kodak's addition of WiFi capability to its Easyshare products, also announced at CES.
"They [Marvel] have a leadership position there," Morales said.
Weili Dai, a co-founder of Marvell and currently executive vice president and general manager of the company's communications business group, said Marvell's leadership position in consumer WLAN has put the company in a position telling customers of "driving how consumer WLAN will be used in the future." Customers, she said, are coming to Marvell to ask about WLAN capabilities and also provide the company with feedback about what features they are wiling to pay for and which may be "over-design."
Gopi said the momentum of WLAN has companies from across the spectrum considering its possibilies. The announcement of the 90-nm WLAN device, he said, spurred a number of contacts from companies such as toy manufacturers and others who want to incorporate WLAN into their products, many of which surprised him.
"I almost fell out of my chair," he said.
Gopi said the proliferation of WLAN into the digital photography space, with cameras that can send photos directly to digital printers, would be the next major evidence of WLAN's possibilities in the consumer market. He expects these products to be a major seller this coming Christmas.
By sometime next year, he said, WLAN capability will enable cell phones to connect to different phone numbers, depending on the location of the consumer. When a person gets home, he said, the cell phone will automatically start receiving calls on that person's home phone number.
"We are really just starting to see this thing take off," Gopi said.