LONDON The fast growing market for cellular modems has a distinctly Chinese flavor.
Shipments of the devices which provide direct Internet connectivity to laptops and other portable devices are forecast to exceed 46 million units this year, according market trackers ABI Research " almost all supplied by Huawei (with about 45 percent of all units shipped), followed by ZTE, which is said to have taken a 21 percent share.
ABI also notes that the USB modem form factor is rapidly eclipsing the PC card format in popularity.
According to senior analyst Jeff Orr, 82 percent of all modem types are now USB. "Their popularity is due to their simplicity " they resemble flash drives " and flexibility: they can be used on a wide variety of devices. The same conditions please the vendors as well."
However, the segment itself is maturing and, though only high-end computers currently offer built-in modems, over time they will be included in less expensive models.
"When world economies improve," says Orr, "there will be more devices with embedded connectivity. Embedded module shipments are forecast to exceed USB modem shipments by early 2013."
A new product class has recently debuted, notes Orr, the "mobile route", which provides online access via cellular connection and distributes it among nearby Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
However he suggests that for now such devices (best exemplified by Novatel's recently introduced "Mi-Fi" product) are "more hype than end users," but Orr warns that they could, if widely adopted, slow the penetration rate of embedded modems.