The search is over for the next killer app. It is wireless, it is all around you, and it will leave no sector of the global economy untouched.
Is your company still fooling around with the PC? Quit now. The era of the personal computer, which powered explosive semiconductor growth in the 1990s, is all but over, replaced by a faster-growing market that places greater emphasis on equipment connectivity; ease of use; and data generation, distribution and processing.
Current forecasts for wireless growth are bound to be wrong, because the technology keeps creeping into unanticipated segments of the economy. Wireless is poised to touch sectors beyond the traditional com- munications and data-networking areas, with potential for adoption in the industrial, manufacturing, medical, retail and ser- vice segments.
"As they do every year, mobile and wireless will set and align with many technology trends," said Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney. "Enterprises should prepare for increased virtualization, wireless networking in the office, dramatic developments from the iPhone and [any] negative developments in WiMax."
The market is huge and growing rapidly. Whereas annual PC shipments are still tallied in the hundreds of millions, the market for wireless equipment--including mobile phones, PDAs, digital music players, game platforms and so on--runs in the billions.
Market watcher iSuppli Corp. (El Segundo, Calif.) estimates that total mobile phone shipments almost doubled in 2007 from four years earlier, to 1.15 billion units from 570,000. By 2010, unit shipments will climb to 1.47 billion, according to the research firm.
Experts say wireless connectivity will define our lives--and the electronics industry--for generations. It's a virtual certainty, for example, that the wireless handset sector will grow even more rapidly as businesses and governments extend applications into further areas to maximize productivity. The result, according to experts, will be increasing disruption in the technology world, but with benefits for all industry segments.
In a report predicting the major technology changes expected for 2008, research firm IDC (Framingham, Mass.) states that the industry is primed for systemic shifts in many of the market's biggest segments, including servers, networking, telecommunications and semiconductors. "The shift will be so great that these disruptions will cease to be considered 'disruptions'; they will become the new status quo for competing in the IT marketplace for the next decade," said IDC analyst Frank Gens.
Wireless will underpin those changes. But it's early in the race for market dominance, whether at the component, OEM or software application level. The winning and losing strategies are still being played out, as EE Times discovered during our exhaustive exercise to pinpoint who's ahead at the various wireless technology nodes.
Industry history holds some lessons about what it will take for a company to corner its segment of the wireless market. In the PC arena, decades of battles for dominance saw a mere handful of OEMs emerge victorious as the sector matured. Technology wasn't the determining factor; in fact, few would argue today that technology is a key differentiator in that fast-fading market. Rather, the winners were the companies with the best technology partnerships, the most effective sales and marketing organizations and, especially, the most efficient design and supply chains.
The wireless market won't be that different--although, for now, the stiffest competition in the nascent segment is occurring at the technology level, as TechOnline editor in chief Patrick Mannion points out in his forecast for the Wi-Fi chip segment.