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The 3G diary in 2006

Posted: 16 Dec 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3G wireless? Majeed Ahmad?

Not so long ago, pundits called 3G wireless the vision of the new century. This was a unique blend of technology conquest and pervasive market drive that was borne out of the GSM triumph.

It subsequently turned into a wireless nirvana where all dreams would come true. The so-called "phone of the future" was powerful enough to provide high-speed Internet access, video-on-demand and countless whiz-bang features.

Then the high-tech bubble burst. Carl Yankowski, a consumer electronics industry veteran and then-CEO of handheld maker Palm Inc., compared 3G to the HDTV saga of the 1980s.

Intel's Hans Geyer, while speaking at the 2001 GSM World Congress in Cannes, France went a step further when he told attendees that the wireless industry was heading for bankruptcybefore even a single 3G call was made.

The technology press has since scaled down 3G to small talk. And the focus turned away from 3G toward real-life applications such as ringtones and camera phones. Meanwhile, the mobile-phone industry maintained its relentless pursuit of advancements through its appetite for multimedia-rich features.

The apparent shift to multimedia, however, will in fact favor 3G, whose bigger transmission pipes require rich content to justify new applications.

According to a study released by Yankee Group, there are strong indications that users are becoming interested in 3G even though the data-centric cellular technology got off to a slower start. The study notes, however, that adoption is still in the early stage.

On the design frontier, the ascendance of dual-processor handset architecture that offloads much of the work to a separate applications processor will inevitably help 3G take off. The technology's reputation as a power hog is also easing as handset designers take on new power-management techniques to optimize battery life.

Then, as the iPod has shown the way, phones with hard-disk drives are becoming a possibility, which will help designers load operating systems like Symbian onto disk drives and solve the battery problem.

Meanwhile, memory capacity keeps increasing to support new features. About three years ago, the average handset carried 4MB of storagenow, memory capacities are at 64MB and higher.

For the pressure to reduce component count amid increasing functionality and smaller form factors, system-in-package (SiP) is an important new venue available to handset designers, especially for the RF portions of 3G phones.

While the day of reckoning nears for 3G, a significant period is starting to unfold in Asia as some system suppliers eye 3G handsets as the next big opportunity. Asian ODMs may take on the design of 3G handsets the same way they learned how to make TVs and DVD playersby getting the reference design, development tools and software assistance from chipmakers.

Asia's jump onto the 3G bandwagon would be a significant event that could make 2006 an exciting year for the region's electronics design industry.

- Majeed Ahmad
Electronic Engineering Times--Asia

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