The future of wireless connectivity is "much, much more, and faster," according to industry experts at 2014 International CES. During a one-hour panel, executives from Ericsson, the Wi-Fi Alliance, Boingo Wireless, and Broadcom discussed wins, challenges, and the future of wireless technology.
Where do we stand today with wireless connectivity as a whole?
Scott Pomerantz, a general manager of wireless connectivity at Broadcom: We see that there's more and more data collected in the field and transferred. We're moving toward seamless (transfer) from mobile device to mobile device, to set-top, gaming console, to the car.
Derek Peterson, senior vice president of engineering at Boingo: Once we get all the networks set up, the next thing we need to do is make it seamless to be able to get onto those networks... so connectivity is an afterthought.
Edgar Figueroa, chief executive at Wi-Fi Alliance: The industry is still trying to deliver on the demands of the consumer; there are a critical mass of companies and brain trusts working on this. I think it's a very real need, very real demand and the industry has proved that... as we deliver more and more capabilities they're consumed.
What is wireless doing well and what can't it do?
Pomerantz: I think we've communicated very well. ABI Research says were going to ship 3.5 billion 5G WiFi chips in the next four years.
We need to be able to easily take measurements from MEMS sensors in phones, from WiFi, Bluetooth Low Energy, and put that on top of a map.
Figueroa: Consumers continue to grow, but also continue to become more demanding of a wide range of applications.
The first, biggest, and ongoing challenge is use. It's hard to imagine today a world without WiFi; as we get into the Internet of Things era... we will see devices that are not your traditional network of devices using WiFi and it will be a challenge to integrate them.
Vish Nandlall, chief technology officer for Ericsson North America: As we move to Internet of Things, there's going to be a whole sea change of technologies from the wireless perspective. We're going to need a better grid... something that's low energy, connectivity so sensors can stay in place longer on the same battery. New use cases are going to drive research and technology; it's going to be many, many different types of access technologies and there will be a crush of heterogeneousness.
Figueroa: Hotspot 2.0 is already available and has built intelligence into devices so they can auto-connect to WiFi when available, and detect best and most secure network. Consumer electronics companies expect collaboration with near field communication (NFC) technology.
How are we doing on interoperability and consumer ease of access?
Pomerantz: Broadcom uses integration -- embedded systems in combo chips -- and our goal is to make sure it's all there, integrated, low power, high performance.
Peterson: We launched Passpoint networks into Chicago's O'Hare airport and it's proving very viable. One of the things about these networks is they're still not free, so you have to have business models that can support the different ways you need to stand up these networks.
Phase two of Passpoint is making it so you can connect to 700,000 hotspots without installing an app.
Nandlall: As we go through new use cases, that's where were seeing the height of cellular connectivity... we're creating a lot of the interworking for consumers.
Where is the line between simplicity and choice?
Peterson: Of course, being a nerd, I want to control... I found that each device has tackled (security) differently. The iPhone connection to network is different than when I grab my Samsung device. It depends on whether a nerd wants to get into that data, or if you want to work with a specific operator who makes sure you're on the best network with the best speed.
Figueroa: End-user configurability is a requirement. Beyond that, the high goal is to make it seamless. Regardless of the technology, devices should connect the best way at the time; we're hardly there in the WiFi space, but we hope to get there across industries and across technologies in the next few years.
Pomerantz: It's incumbent on everyone to make sure the consumer is comfortable, that they control what they want to control. Our customers, Samsung, Apple, HTC or whoever is making the device has to make sure they show their customers it's an easy thing to protect. It's incumbent upon us to be open, address sensitivity.
Nandlall: There's always going to be tension between abstracting technologies and the device. I think it's a mix of both: as things become more and more abstracted, ease of use becomes a mantra.
How important is spectrum?
Nandlall: The spectrum always will be scarce; [cellular] coverage still remains in the range of 600MHz, and you've got another 200MHz coming unlicensed. We're not talking big numbers, we're talking a scarce commodity in a rising tide of consumption.
Figueroa: It's very important because we continue to see a rise in demand for applications that use a lot of bandwidth. We make news of the bandwidth that's available and disperse it; the industry is doing its bit to advocate for the terrific economy and social benefits we've seen from unlicensed use.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, what do you see as new technology that will gain traction?
Nandlall: General trends are people want faster and faster. What's getting us faster and faster is getting more bandwidth and getting more spectrum efficient. Technologies [to get there] are spatial multiplexing and massive MIMO usage. By putting more antennas on a single cell site or using all antennas in a cell, we'll be able to have very, very dense networks. We also should ask how do I become more interference resistant.
Virtualization today is in a fixed geographical location. How can I push that down to an enterprise or to the user through virtualization? We also have to ask how to slice the network into a highly resilient, highly energy-efficient slice.
Pomerantz: Wireless charging is big area to watch, driven largely by the number of units of wireless devices being proliferated such as wearables. As technology moves from inductive to resonant charging, you don't have to perfectly align the device [in a charger]. I think that's really cool and really required.
Peterson: What I see in addition to this is location [services], being able to know when I walk into a retail store what coupons are available. We're trying to figure out different models to be able to take all this information that's available, combining digital and physical worlds. The digital world still is out there and not connected in a lot of cases to what's going on in the physical world.
Figueroa: WiGig, a new version of WiFi. What it means is consumers can do things much, much faster than in [the 5 GHz] 802.11ac [standard]. We're expecting WiGig to be multi-gigibit per second speeds, up to 7 Gbit/s. You can do a lot of things device-to-device, opening up a range of applications. We're currently developing WiGig [specs] and chipset vendors are doing demos.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times