Integration - the hurdles

Thursday, July 26, 2007

As I had mentioned in a previous article, the wireless industry is heading for consolidation of technologies, slowly but steadily. This is driven primarily by the growing public demand for various features requiring these different technologies. The result is that the companies are now realizing the need to diversify from their core-competency.

On one side, there is an increasing need for GPS on the cellular platform while on the other hand, the technologies in the unlicensed spectrum also are moving towards co-existence. And then, there is dual-mode cellular/WiFi cards. It does not take a veteran to see the future. The writing is fairly clear and the long-term survival of many companies, including the big names, is in their assimilation of this fact and of course, in their execution of their plans.

This being said, it is not easy to come up with such products. Though this would be a coup for any company's marketing department, pulling it off is an entirely different ball-game, at least from the engineering side. Each product comes with its own quirks and is burdened by a zillion tests set-forth by their respective standards bodies. All these standards bodies, till date have not given thought to co-existence. In other words, the tests are written with the assumption that there will be no impairments resulting from other devices in the vicinity or in the same chip. Now, we may argue that there would be enough head-room since the standards-based minimum requirements, especially in the cellular world are fairly low. But note that designers may eventually scrap the bottom of each one of these barrels in terms of getting performance. And then there is a point of diminishing returns beyond which the economics of putting advanced receivers for various technologies in a single chip/card may not be worthwhile as compared to having more basic and cheaper receivers for each of these technologies in separate devices with sufficient isolation.

Also, let us say that under these constraints, the minimum test-requirements are met for each standard, then the question is whether this would result in good user experience. After all, all these integrated features are most sought after in the smart-phones and other higher-segment phones. Users expect to get a better quality of service for the money they put in on these devices. Also, just passing the minimum requirements does not make the cellular carrier happy either since the capacity takes a hit.

As I have high-lighted above, the task of integrating various technologies is a tough challenge although the benefits are huge. It is clear that the company that can juggle all the parameters I mentioned, while understanding the magic mantra, both for the cellular carrier and the customer, would come out on top. The coming days will also give us a clearer notion of its feasibility, both from the technical and economic stand-points.

Posted by Vijay Nagarajan at 9:42 AM  

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