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Breakthrough Analysis


by William E. Halal
Monday, October 15, 2007


Event | Data Points | Forecast Data Analysis | Trend Analysis | Articles  

Advances in the power and speed of wireless are so rapid they are truly revolutionary. Verizon recorded the first ever decrease in wireline use in 2001, and it is expected that wireless communications will soon dominate. Wireless is growing 60% per year while PC sales are flat. Roughly 600 million people access the Internet using PCs but 1.4 billion do so with webphones. Robert Kahn, one of the creators of the Internet, said “The world is going wireless.” An IDC researcher said “This is the 2nd coming of the Internet.” And a businessman said “This is the next telecom revolution.” (Washington Post, 5/23/02; BusinessWeek, 11/10/03) Security, range, and incompatible standards remain problems, but technical progress could easily resolve these issues in a few years. TechCast estimates arrival soon.

Event Being Forecast

Wireless devices (cell phones, laptops, PCs, etc.) are used for 30% of telecommunications.


Selected Data Points to Consider

• IDC estimates 60% of Americans had cell phones by 2005.

• 100% cell phone adoption is expected in Europe by '07 - meaning there will be as many cell phones as people. (Reuters, 5/5/05) A Siemens executive said “In 2010 every new phone in Europe will be wireless." (BusinessWeek, 10/20/03) Booz-Allen projects 60% of European mobile phones to have Internet access by ‘07 (Strategy+ Business, 9/26/00).

• In ‘03 there were 147 million cell phones in the U.S. and 187 million wireline phones; the crossover to wireless occured about ‘05 (BusinessWeek, 10/20/03).

90% of laptops used WiFi by the end of ‘05 (BusinessWeek, 4/17/03).

• Computer scientist Ray Kurzweil said “At the end of this decade, everyone will be online all the time with high-speed wireless” (, 7/9/02)

• The WiFi market totaled $1.7 B worldwide in ’03 and $3 B in '05 (Scientific American, 10/05) The entire wireless market (cell phones, WiFi, etc.) in Europe will reach $110 billion by ‘05 and $1 trillion by ‘10. (BusinessWeek, 03)

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Forecast Data Analysis

    Mean Std Dev N (# Experts)
Most Likely Year 2008 2 44
Market Size ($B) 390 210
Confidence (%) 77 10

In addition, 2 experts predicted that this event would never occur; mean confidence: 30%; std. dev.: 29.5.

Note: "Most Likely Year" is the year when this technology is expected to reach the adoption level stated under "Event Being Forecast" in industrial nations like the US, EU, and Japan. "Confidence" is the confidence our experts place in this forecst. "Market Size" estimates the potential market demand when this rechnology matures; global figures are not available, so this estimate is for the U.S. economy.

Forecast Chart

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Trend Analysis

PROS: Trends Driving this Event

    • Some wireless technologies operate across a wide spectrum at low power to avoid intruding on other channels, with transmissions aggregated into coherent messages at the receiver. Others use "cognitive radio" designs that search for unused spectrum. The result is to convert the electromagnetic spectrum from a scarce resource into an abundant resource of infinite capacity. (The Economist 8/14/04)
    • The next generation - “WiMax” – runs at over 70 Mbs, covers a large city, and could soon match other forms of broadband in cost. (Businessweek, 1/19/04)
    • To overcome gaps between different wireless services, some carriers are using systems that automatically switch to the best service available. NSA and DARPA are developing intelligent software to optimize connections (InfoWorld, 2/28/03).
    • EvDO may surpass WiFi because it can operate over cell networks to provide seamless coverage. Verizon is introducing EvDO because the Company thinks “EvDO could jumpstart the industry all over again.” (Washington Post 1/23/03)
    • Ultrawideband operates at 1 GBS, 20 times the speed of WiFi.
    • Wireless experts think wireless will reach 500 Mbs to 10 Gbs by about '08 and include good security systems (Fortune 6/25/03)
    • A version of wireless - xMax - uses 1000 times less power than WiMax. A LAN using xMax could operate for years on a watch battery. (TechWorld 11/40/5)
    • Nokia is developing "adaptive beam forming" antennas that focus signals at the mobile device, rather than spraying it in all directions. (TechnologyReview 3/13/06)
    • The terahertz radiation band (100 gigahertz to 10 terahertz) is being developed to improve wireless communications by a factor of 1000. (TechnologyReview 4/3/07)
    • "Optical wireless technology" is being developed to overcome the bandwidth and security limitations of radio wireless. The same LEDs that are now replacing incandescent light bulbs would transmit signals that permeate a room to carry information at 1 Gbs. (Scientific American 7/07)

  2. BUSINESS IS MOVING INTO WIRELESS AGRESSIVELY • Intel invested $300 million on the Centrino chip to make WiFi the standard on laptops. (BusinessWeek,4/17/03), and is now putting WiMax on a chip "Rosedale" for laptops and other devices.
    • Sprint is building a new cell wireless network using WiMax technology, boosting speeds to match DSL and cable. (TechnologyReview 8/9/06)
    • Sony is putting WiFi in every TV and PC.
    • Following the lead of Starbucks with 2000 WiFi equipped shops, McDonald’s is introducing the service (CNN, 3/13/03)
    • FedEx is moving its 50,000 person delivery system to wireless (BusinessWeek, 11/14/03)
    • AT&T has an alliance with NTT’s DoCoMo wireless project, which serves 15 million Japanese.
    • Entire cities like Philadelphia are installing WiFi as a public service.


CONS: Obstacles Opposing this Event

  1. TECHNICAL PROBLEMS Wireless is plagued by slow speeds, clashing standards, spotty coverage, small screens, limited storage, and security problems. For instance, the cellular network transmits at 19 KBS, slower than modems. WAP, 3G, and Bluetooth were all expected to provide a common standard, but proved to be slow, expensive, and unreliable. A particular problem is that wireless devices can only be used on the network that sells the device.

  2. COST AND FAILURES It will cost $50-100 billion to create a wireless infrastructure for the U.S (Businessweek, 10/6/03). $230 M was spent in '06 and $460 M in '07 by cities that rushed to build wireless networks for their citizens, and many are failing due to cost overuns and technical problems. "They are the monorails of this decade," said Anthony Townsend of the Institute for the Future. "The wrong technology, totally overpromised, and completely undelivered." (TechnologyReview 5/22/07)

  3. MANY DO NOT WANT INTERNET PHONES The Yankee Group found that 54% of Americans have no interest in receiving web services on their wireless phones.

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