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Archive for the ‘analyst’ Category

ABI projects rapid uptake of 802.11ac

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

An interesting graphic from ABI research projects ongoing rapid growth in Wi-Fi in phones out to 2017, when the penetration will be approaching 100%. This doesn’t seem to be unrealistically fast to me, since the speed at which feature phones have been displaced by low-cost smartphones implies that by that time practically all phones will be smartphones, and since carriers are increasingly attracted to Wi-Fi for data offload from their cellular networks.

The graphic also shows rapid transition from 802.11n to 802.11ac starting next year.

Wi-Fi Penetration in Mobile Handsets by Protocol World Market, Forecast 2010-2017

Picking on Blackberries

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Matt Lewis identifies the worst corporate decisions of all time and makes sense of the global economic crisis.

ISP Performance numbers from Netflix

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Interesting numbers from the Netflix Tech Blog.

Several things jump out at me. First, cable is faster than DSL, and wireless is the slowest. Second, again no surprise, urban is faster than rural. But the big surprise to me is the Verizon number. They have spent a ton on FIOS, and according to Trefis about half of Verizon’s broadband customers are now on FiOS. So according to these numbers, even if we supposed that Verizon’s non-FiOS customers were getting a bandwidth of zero, the average bandwidth available to a FiOS customer appears to be less than 5 megabits per second.

Since FiOS is a very fast last mile, the bottleneck might be in the backhaul, or, more likely, in some bandwidth-throttling device. Whichever way you slice it, it’s hard to cast these numbers in a positive light for Verizon.

Netflix measurements of ISP bandwidth
Update January 31, 2011: This story in the St. Louis Business Journal says that the Charter, the ISP with the best showing in the Netflix measurements, is increasing its speed further, with no increase in price. This is good news. It is time that ISPs in the US started to compete on speed.

Contemplating the graphs, the lines appear to cluster to some extent in three bands, centered on 1.5 mbps, 2 mbps and 2.5 mbps. If this is evidence of traffic shaping, these are the numbers that ISPs should be using in their promotional materials, rather than the usual “up to” numbers that don’t mention minimums or averages.

Skype for iPhone

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Well, that last post on the likely deficiencies of VoIP on iPhones may turn out to have been overly pessimistic. It looks as though Hell is beginning to freeze over. Skype is now running on iPhones over the Wi-Fi connection, and for a new release it’s running relatively well. AT&T deserves props for letting it happen – unlike T-Mobile, which isn’t letting it happen and therefore deserves whatever the opposite of props is.

6 hours after it was released Skype became the highest-volume download on Apple’s AppStore. In keeping with Skype’s reputation for ease of use, it downloads and installs with no problems, though as one expects with first revisions it has some bugs.

My brief experience with it has included several crashes – twice when I hung up a call and once when a calendar alarm went off in the middle of a call. Another interesting quirk is that when I called a friend on a PC Skype client from my iPhone, I heard him answer twice, about 3 seconds apart. Presumably a revision will be out soon to fix these problems.

Other quirky behaviour is a by-product of the iPhone architecture rather than bugs, and will have to be fixed with changes to the way the iPhone works. The biggest issue of this kind is that it is relatively hard to receive calls, since the Skype application has to be running in the foreground to receive a call. This is because the iPhone architecture preserves battery life by not allowing programs to run in the background.

Similar system design characteristics mean that when a cellular call comes in a Skype call in progress is instantly bumped off rather than offering the usual call waiting options. I couldn’t get my Bluetooth headset to work with Skype, so either it can’t be done, or the method to do it doesn’t reach Skype’s exemplary ease of use standards.

Now for the good news. It’s free. It’s free to call from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world. And the sound quality is very good for a cell phone, even though the codec is only G.729. I expect future revisions to add SILK wideband audio support to deliver sound quality better than anything ever heard on a cell phone before. The chat works beautifully, and it is synchronized with the chat window on your PC, so everything typed by either party appears on both your iPhone and PC screen, with less than a second of lag.

After a half-hour Skype to Skype conversation on the iPhone I looked at my AT&T bill. No voice minutes and no data minutes had been charged, so there appear to be no gotchas in that department. A friend used an iPod Touch to make Skype Wi-Fi calls from an airport hot-spot in Germany – he reports the call quality was fine.

The New York Times review is here

Linley Report on Mobile Connectivity Chips Released

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I have been working for some time on a report about mobile connectivity chips. This is an interesting market, one that is so hot that it is actually going to continue to grow in 2009 as the overall cell phone market declines by 10%.

The term “connectivity” denotes all the radios in a cell phone that are not cellular radios. There are a lot of them. The main ones are Bluetooth, FM radio, GPS and Wi-Fi. Others beginning to appear in handsets are TV and NFC. Further out in time are 60 GHz and White Spaces radios.

The cell phone market deals in massive volumes – about 1.2 billion handsets were sold in 2008. It also has some stringent requirements. The market demands chips that are small, cheap, battery-life conserving and easy to design-in. These considerations have driven chip vendors to combine multiple connectivity radios onto single chips. The first combo chips were Bluetooth plus FM. Then came Bluetooth plus FM plus Wi-Fi then most recently Bluetooth plus FM plus GPS.

Because the market is so big, the competition is intense. The 2008 leaders in Bluetooth were Broadcom and CSR; in Wi-Fi TI, ST-Ericsson and Marvell; in GPS TI and Infineon; and in FM ST-Ericsson and Silicon Labs.

These vendors are leap-frogging each other on performance and features. 2009 will see major changes in market share as some vendors fail to refresh their old product lines, others refresh their product lines but with inadequate products, and new entrants come in with better solutions.

Fixed Mobile Substitution and Voice over Wi-Fi

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Getting rid of your land-line phone and relying on your cell phone instead is called Fixed Mobile Substitution (FMS).

A report from the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows a linear increase in the number of households that have a cell phone but no land-line, starting at 4.4% in 2004 and reaching 16.1% in the first half of 2008.
US Fixed Mobile Substitution 2005-2008 - source: CDC

These numbers match those in a recent Nielsen report on FMS.

FMS will most likely accelerate in 2009 because of the recession. It will be interesting to see by how much. We will reach a tipping point soon. 13% of households have a landline that they don’t use.

There are about 112 million occupied housing units in the US, and about 71 million broadband subscribers.

So what does this mean for Wi-Fi VoIP? One of the primary reasons for FMS is to save money; it is more prevalent in lower income households. There are two kinds of phone that do VoWi-Fi, smartphones and UMA phones. Smartphones are expensive, and probably less common among the cord-cutting demographic – except that that demographic is also younger and better educated as well as having a modest income – many are students.

Wi-Fi VoIP in smart phones is still negligible, but the seeds are planted: vigorous growth of smart phones, Wi-Fi attach rate to smart phones trending to 100%, a slow but steady opening up of smart phones to third party applications, broadband in most homes, Wi-Fi growing in all markets.

Some holiday browsing

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

If you are interested in Enterprise FMC, or Mobile Unified Communications as it is now called, you will find this presentation and podcast from Brian Riggs of Current Analysis gives an informative overview of the state of the art.

Wi-Fi and the Mobile Internet

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Admob periodically publishes numbers on the mobile Internet and its usage. The numbers are badly skewed because of Admob’s customer mix. For example Indonesia lists as the second largest mobile Internet market in the world. But if you make your own mental adjustments for this, the numbers are informative.

Admob’s latest report highlights Wi-Fi use in the USA.

Of the ad requests fielded by Admob, in August 2008 9% came from Wi-Fi capable devices: dual-mode phones, iPod Touches and Sony PSPs. In November this number doubled to 19%. Since the numbers for August aren’t broken down, it is uncertain which devices drove this growth, but my guess is that it is due to the booming sales of the iPhone.

Of the requests from Wi-Fi capable devices, the proportion that came over Wi-Fi varied radically. For the iPod Touch and the Sony PSP, 100% of the requests were over Wi-Fi. No surprise there. But on the phone side, a very interesting discrepancy between the iPhone (42% of requests by Wi-Fi) and the HTC phones (16% of requests by Wi-Fi). Since each of the phones uses the same browser for cellular data and Wi-Fi connections, it can’t be an ease of use of the Internet issue. Two other possibilities come to mind: the Wi-Fi may be easier to set up on the iPhone than it is on the HTC phones, or the cellular data speed may be worse on the AT&T network, driving the users to Wi-Fi, while users on T-Mobile (where all the HTC phones listed in the report are) get acceptable performance from their cellular data connection.

The Blackberry data casts a similar light on the question. The two Blackberries in the report were the 8820 and the 8320. The 8820 had the same profile as the iPhone – 40% of the requests came by Wi-Fi. The 8320 had even less Wi-Fi use than the HTC phones – only 8% of the requests came by Wi-Fi. These two phones are both on the same carriers (AT&T and T-Mobile), they have the same Wi-Fi chip (from TI), and their specs are similar.

The clue is in their release dates. The 8320 has been out on T-Mobile for a year, but was not yet released on AT&T in November when AdMob collected their numbers. The 8820 was released by AT&T a year ago, but by T-Mobile only 6 months ago. There are obviously a lot of other variables at work – like 3G versus 2G, for example, and pricing structure, but this looks like evidence that the T-Mobile data network has a more acceptable performance than AT&T’s.

A not so perfect Storm

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

The Verizon Storm may be heading for failure in more than one way. A raft of reviewers, led by David Pogue of the New York Times are trashing its usability. This means that even with the marketing might of Verizon behind it it may not fulfill its goal of being a bulwark against the iPhone in the enterprise.

But the Storm was an experiment in another way by Verizon. The other three major American mobile network operators have capitulated to Wi-Fi in smartphones. Against the new conventional wisdom, Verizon decided to launch a new flagship smartphone without Wi-Fi. The Storm looks like a trial balloon to see whether Wi-Fi is optional in modern smartphones. If the Storm is a success, it will demonstrate that it is possible to have credible business smartphones without Wi-Fi. But if it turns out to be a flop because of other factors, it will not be a proof point for Wi-Fi either way.

But Wi-Fi is a closed issue by now for all the network operators, perhaps even including Verizon. Phones have lead times of the order of a year or so, and controversies active back then may now be resolved. Verizon covered its bets by launching three other smartphones around the same time as the Storm, all with Wi-Fi (HTC Touch Pro, Samsung Omnia, Samsung Saga).

Before its launch, AT&T hoped that the iPhone would stimulate use of the cellular data network. It succeeded in this, so far beyond AT&T’s hopes that it revealed a potential problem with the concept of 3G (and 4G) data. The network slows to a crawl if enough subscribers use data intensively in small areas like airports and conferences. Mobile network operators used to fear that if phones had Wi-Fi subscribers would use it instead of the cellular data network, causing a revenue leak. AT&T solved that problem with the iPhone by making a subscription to the data service obligatory. T-Mobile followed suit with the Google phone. So no revenue leak. With the data subscription in hand, Wi-Fi is a good thing for the network operators because it offloads the 3G network. In residences and businesses all the data that goes through Wi-Fi is a reduction in the potential load on the network. In other words, a savings in infrastructure investment, which translates to profit. This may be some of the thinking behind AT&T’s recent acquisition of Wayport. The bandwidth acquired with Wayport offloads the AT&T network relatively cheaply. AT&T’s enthusiasm for Wi-Fi is such that it is selling some new Wi-Fi phones without requiring a data subscription.

The enterprise market is one that mobile network operators have long neglected. It is small relative to the consumer market, and harder to fit into a one-size-fits-all model. Even so, in these times of scraping for revenue in every corner, and with the steady rise of the Blackberry, the network operators are taking a serious look at the enterprise market.

The device manufacturers are way ahead of the network operators on this issue: the iPhone now comes with a lot of enterprise readiness Kool-Aid; Windows Mobile makes manageability representations, as does Nokia with its Eseries handsets. RIM, the current king of the enterprise smartphone vendors also pitches its IT-friendliness.

Wi-Fi in smartphones has benefits and drawbacks for enterprises. One benefit is that you have another smart device on the corporate LAN to enhance productivity. A drawback is that you have another smart device on the corporate LAN ripe for viruses and other security breaches. But that issue is mitigated to some extent if smartphones don’t have Wi-Fi. So it’s arguable that the Storm may be more enterprise-friendly as a result of its lack of Wi-Fi. Again, if the Storm becomes a hit in enterprises that argument will turn out to hold water. If the Storm is a flop for other reasons, we still won’t know, and it will have failed as a trial balloon for Wi-Fi-less enterprise smartphones.

Broadcom connectivity chip reaches the market

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Back in July Broadcom announced that it had started production shipments of its BCM4325 chip.

Yesterday iFixit.com found one in the new Apple iPod Touch. This is the first published instance of a device containing this chip but many more will follow. Broadcom has scored a coup with this device; it contains Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and FM, all on a single die fabricated on a 65nm process.

This is the most highly integrated connectivity chip (the term refers to all the non-cellular radios in a phone) yet to reach the market. Previous combo connectivity chips have combined Bluetooth with FM, and in one instance (from Marvell) Bluetooth with Wi-Fi. But the BCM4325 is the first to market with three radios. TI has announced, but not yet shipped, a similar chip with even more impressive specifications: the TI Wi-Fi will include 802.11n and the TI FM will include transmit as well as receive.

Connectivity technology in cell phones is evolving very rapidly, as the phone manufacturers accelerate their competition on the feature treadmill. Next will be GPS, driven this time by the network operators, who see location-based services as a potential goldmine. Two chip manufacturers have announced, but not yet shipped, combo Bluetooth, FM and GPS chips.

Connectivity chips were the subject of a report I wrote last year with the Linley Group; we will deliver an update with expanded coverage later this year.