ITExpo: BYOD – The New Mobile Enterprise

If you are going to ITExpo West 2012 in Austin, make sure you attend my panel on this topic at 1:30 pm on Wednesday, October 3rd.

The panelists are Jeanette Lee of Ruckus Wireless, Ed Wright of ShoreTel and John Cash of RIM.

The pitch for the panel is:

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has been in full swing for a couple of years now, and there’s no going back. Enterprises have adopted a policy of allowing users to use their own devices to access corporate networks and resources. With it comes the cost savings of not having to purchase as many mobile devices, and user satisfaction increases when they are able to choose their preferred devices and providers (and avoid having to carry multiple devices). But the benefits don’t come without challenges — the user experience must be preserved, security policies must accommodate these multiple devices and operating systems, and IT has to content with managing applications and access across different platforms. This session looks at what businesses can do to mitigate risks and ensure performance while still giving your users the device freedom they demand.

MIMO for handset Wi-Fi

I mentioned earlier that the Wi-Fi Alliance requires MIMO for 802.11n certification except for phones, which can be certified with a single stream. This waiver was for several reasons, including power, size and the difficulty of getting two spatially separated antennas into a handset. Atheros and Marvell appear to have overcome those difficulties; both have announced 2×2 Wi-Fi chips for handsets. Presumably TI and Broadcom will not be far behind.

The Atheros chip is called the AR6004. According to Rethink Wireless,

The AR6004 can use both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands and is capable of real world speeds as high as 170Mbps. Yet the firm claims its chip consumes only 15% more power than the current AR6003, which delivers only 85Mbps. It will be available in sample quantities by the end of this quarter and in commercial quantities in the first quarter of next year.

The AR6004 appears to be designed for robust performance. It incorporates all the optional features of 802.11n intended to improve rate at range. Atheros brands this suite of features “Signal Sustain Technology.” The AR6004 is also designed to reduce the total solution footprint, by including on-chip power amplifiers and low-noise amplifiers. Historically on-chip CMOS power amplifiers have performed worse than external PAs using GaAs, but Atheros claims to have overcome this deficiency, prosaically branding its solution “Efficient Power Amplifier.”

The 88W8797 from Marvell uses external PAs and LNAs, but saves space a different way, by integrating Bluetooth and FM onto the chip. The data sheet on this chip doesn’t mention as many of the 802.11n robustness features as the Atheros one does, so it is unclear whether the chip supports LDPC, for example.

Both chips claim a maximum 300 Mbps data rate. Atheros translates this to an effective throughput of 170 Mbps.

Of course, these chips will be useful in devices other than handsets. They are perfect for tablets, where there is plenty of room for two antennas at the right separation.

ITExpo East 2011: NGC-02 “The Next Generation of Voice over WLAN”

I will be moderating this panel at IT Expo in Miami on February 2nd at 10:00 am.

Voice over WLAN has been deployed in enterprise applications for years, but has yet to reach mainstream adoption (beyond vertical markets). With technologies like mobile UC, 802.11n, fixed-mobile convergence and VoIP for smartphones raising awareness/demand, there are a number of vendors poised to address market needs by introducing new and innovative devices. This session will look at what industries have already adopted VoWLAN and why – and what benefits they have achieved, as well as the technology trends that make VoWLAN possible.

The panelists are:

  • Russell Knister, Sr. Director, Business Development & Product Marketing, Motorola Solutions
  • Ben Guderian, VP Applications and Ecosystem, Polycom
  • Carlos Torales, Cisco Systems, Inc.

All three of these companies have a venerable history in enterprise Wi-Fi phones; the two original pioneers of enterprise Voice over Wireless LAN were Symbol and Spectralink, which Motorola and Polycom acquired respectively in 2006 and 2007. Cisco announced a Wi-Fi handset (the 7920) to complement their Cisco CallManager in 2003. But the category has obstinately remained a niche for almost a decade.

It has been clear from the outset that cell phones would get Wi-Fi, and it would be redundant to have dedicated Wi-Fi phones. And of course, now that has come to pass. The advent of the iPhone with Wi-Fi in 2007 subdued the objections of the wireless carriers to Wi-Fi and knocked the phone OEMs off the fence. By 2010 you couldn’t really call a phone without Wi-Fi a smartphone, and feature phones aren’t far behind.

So this session will be very interesting, answering questions about why enterprise voice over Wi-Fi has been so confined, and why that will no longer be the case.

Sharing Wi-Fi Update

Back in February 2009 I wrote about how Atheros’ new chip made it possible for a phone to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. A couple of months later, David Pogue wrote in the New York Times about a standalone device to do the same thing, the Novatel MiFi 2200. The MiFi is a Wi-Fi access point with a direct connection to the Internet over a cellular data channel. So you can have “a personal Wi-Fi bubble, a private hot spot, that follows you everywhere you go.”

The type of technology that Atheros announced at the beginning of 2009 was put on a standards track at the end of 2009; the “Wi-Fi Direct” standard was launched in October 2010. So far about 25 products have been certified. Two phones have already been announced with Wi-Fi Direct built-in: the Samsung Galaxy S and the LG Optimus Black.

Everybody has a cell phone, so if a cell phone can act as a MiFi, why do you need a MiFi? It’s another by-product of the dysfunctional billing model of the mobile network operators. If they simply bit the bullet and charged à la carte by the gigabyte, they would be happy to encourage you to use as many devices as possible through your phone.

WiFi Direct may force a change in the way that network operators bill. It is such a compelling benefit to consumers, and so trivial to implement for the phone makers, that the mobile network operators may not be able to hold it back.

So if this capability proliferates into all cell phones, we will be able to use Wi-Fi-only tablets and laptops wherever we are. This seems to be bad news for Novatel’s MiFi and for cellular modems in laptops. Which leads to another twist: Qualcomm’s Gobi is by far the leading cellular modem for laptops, and Qualcomm just announced that it is acquiring Atheros.

ITExpo West — Achieving HD Voice On Smartphones

I will be moderating a panel discussion at ITExpo West on Tuesday 5th October at 11:30 am in room 306B: “Achieving HD Voice On Smartphones.”

Here’s the session description:

The communications market has been evolving to fixed high definition voice services for some time now, and nearly every desktop phone manufacturer is including support for G.722 and other codecs now. Why? Because HD voice makes the entire communications experience a much better one than we are used to.

But what does it mean for the wireless industry? When will wireless communications become part of the HD revolution? How will handset vendors, network equipment providers, and service providers have to adapt their current technologies in order to deliver wireless HD voice? How will HD impact service delivery? What are the business models around mobile HD voice?

This session will answer these questions and more, discussing both the technology and business aspects of bringing HD into the mobile space.

The panelists are:

This is a deeply experienced panel; each of the panelists is a world-class expert in his field. We can expect a highly informative session, so come armed with your toughest questions.

Dual Mode Phone Trends Update 4

We are half way through the year, so it’s time for another look at Wi-Fi phone certifications. Three things jump out this time. First, a leap in the number of Wi-Fi phone models in the second quarter of 2010. Second, the arrival of 802.11n in handsets, and third Samsung’s market-leading commitment to 802.11n. According to Rethink Wireless “Samsung’s share of the smartphone market was only about 5% in Q1 but it aims to increase this to almost 15% by year end.” Samsung Wi-Fi-certified a total of 73 dual mode phones in the first six months of 2010, three times as many as second place LG with 23. In the 11n category, Samsung’s lead was even more dominating: its 40 certifications were ten times either of the second place OEMs.

Here is a chart of dual mode phones certified with the Wi-Fi Alliance from 2008 to June 30th 2010. We usually do this chart stacked, but side-by-side gives a clearer comparison between feature phones and smart phones. Note that up to the middle of 2009, smart phones outpaced feature phones, but then it switched. This is a natural progression of Wi-Fi into the mass market, but may also be exaggerated by a quirk of reporting: of HTC’s 17 certifications in the first half of 2010, it only categorized one as a smart phone.
Dual mode phones by quarter 2008-2010

The chart below shows the growth of 802.11n. It starts in January 2010 because only one 11n phone was certified in 2009, at the end of December. As you can see, the growth is strong. I anticipate that practically all new dual mode phone certifications will be for 802.11n by the end of 2010.

802.11n phones 2010 by month

Below is the same chart sliced by manufacturer instead of by month. The iPhone is missing because it wasn’t certified until July, and the iPad is missing because it’s not a phone. With only one 802.11n phone, Nokia has become a technology laggard, at least in this respect. The RIM Pearl 8100/8105 certifications are the only ones with STBC, an important feature for phones because it improves rate at distance. All the major chips (except those from TI) support STBC, so the phone OEMs must be either leaving it disabled or just not bothering to certify for it.

802.11n phones 2010 by manufacturer

Wi-Fi Ubiquity

ABI came out with a press release last week saying that 770 million Wi-Fi chips will ship in 2010. This is an amazing number. Where are they all going? Fortunately ABI included a bar-chart with this information in the press release. Here it is (click on it for a full-size view):

Wi-Fi chip shipments worldwide. Source: ABI

The y axis isn’t labeled, but the divisions appear to be roughly 200 million units.

This year shows roughly equal shipments going to phones, mobile PCs, and everything else. There is no category of Access Points, so presumably less of those are sold than “pure VoWi-Fi handsets.” I find this surprising, since I expect the category of pure VoWi-Fi handsets to remain moribund. Gigaset, which makes an excellent cordless handset for VoIP, stopped using Wi-Fi and went over to DECT because of its superior characteristics for this application.

There is also no listing for tablet PCs, a category set to boom; they must be subsumed under MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices).

The chart shows the portable music player category growing vigorously through 2015. iPod unit sales were down 8% year on year in 1Q10, and pretty much stagnant since 2007. ABI must be thinking that even with unit sales dropping, the attach rate of Wi-Fi will soar.

The category of “Computer Peripherals” will probably grow faster than ABI seems to anticipate. Wireless keyboards and mice use either Bluetooth or proprietary radios currently, but the new Wi-Fi alliance specification “Wi-Fi Direct” will change that. Ozmo is aiming to use Wi-Fi to improve battery life in mice and keyboards two to three-fold. Since all laptops, most all-in-one PCs and many regular desktops already have Wi-Fi built-in (that’s at least double the Bluetooth attach rate) this may be an attractive proposition for the makers (and purchasers) of wireless mice and keyboards. Booming sales of tablet PCs may further boost sales of wireless keyboards and mice.

Samsung GT-S8500 is first with 11n, BT 3.0 certifications

Engadget reports that the Samsung GT-S8500 is the first phone to support Bluetooth 3.0. A look at the Wi-Fi Alliance website reveals that it was also the first feature phone to gain 802.11n certification.

The certificate is dated December 28th 2009, the same date that the first smartphone was certified for 802.11n – the LG Veri/VS750. The VS750 Wi-Fi appears to be more advanced than the Samsung, since it is certified for short guard interval and WMM Power Save.

While these are the first phones to gain Wi-Fi certification for 802.11n, they may not be the first to market.

VoIP over the 3G data channel comes to the iPhone

I discussed last September how AT&T was considering opening up the 3G data channel to third party voice applications like Skype. According to Rethink Wireless, Steve Jobs mentioned in passing at this week’s iPad extravaganza that it is now a done deal.

Rethink mentions iCall and Skype as beneficiaries. Another notable one is Fring. Google Voice is not yet in this category, since it uses the cellular voice channel rather than the data channel, so it is not strictly speaking VoIP; the same applies to Skype for the iPhone.

According to Boaz Zilberman, Chief Architect at Fring, the Fring iPhone client needed no changes to implement VoIP on the 3G data channel. It was simply a matter of reprogramming the Fring servers to not block it. Apple also required a change to Fring’s customer license agreements, requiring the customer to use this feature only if permitted by his service provider. AT&T now allows it, but non-US carriers may have different policies.

Boaz also mentioned some interesting points about VoIP on the 3G data channel compared with EDGE/GPRS and Wi-Fi. He said that Fring only uses the codecs built in to handsets to avoid the battery drain of software codecs. He said that his preferred codec is AMR-NB; he feels the bandwidth constraints and packet loss inherent in wireless communications negate the audio quality benefits of wideband codecs. 3G data calls often sound better than Wi-Fi calls – the increased latency (100 ms additional round-trip according to Boaz) is balanced by reduced packet loss. 20% of Fring’s calls run on GPRS/EDGE, where the latency is even greater than on 3G; total round trip latency on a GPRS VoIP call is 400-500ms according to Boaz.

As for handsets, Boaz says that Symbian phones are best suited for VoIP, the Nokia N97 being the current champion. Windows Mobile has poor audio path support in its APIs. The iPhone’s greatest advantage is its user interface, it’s disadvantages are lack of background execution and lack of camera APIs. Android is fragmented: each Android device requires different programming to implement VoIP.

First 802.11n handset spotted in the wild – what took so long?

The fall 2009 crop of ultimate smartphones looks more penultimate to me, with its lack of 11n. But a handset with 802.11n has come in under the wire for 2009. Not officially, but actually. Slashgear reports a hack that kicks the Wi-Fi chip in the HTC HD2 phone into 11n mode. And the first ultimate smartphone of 2010, the HTC Google Nexus One is also rumored to support 802.11n.

These are the drops before the deluge. Questions to chip suppliers have elicited mild surprise that there are still no Wi-Fi Alliance certifications for handsets with 802.11n. All the flagship chips from all the handset Wi-Fi chipmakers are 802.11n. Broadcom is already shipping volumes of its BCM4329 11n combo chip to Apple for the iTouch (and I would guess the new Apple tablet), though the 3GS still sports the older BCM4325.

Some fear that 802.11n is a relative power hog, and will flatten your battery. For example, a GSMArena report on the HD2 hack says:

There are several good reasons why Wi-Fi 802.11n hasn’t made its way into mobile phones hardware just yet. Increased power consumption is just not worth it if the speed will be limited by other factors such as under-powered CPU or slow-memory…

But is it true that 802.11n increases power consumption at a system level? In some cases it may be: the Slashgear report linked above says: “some users have reported significant increases in battery consumption when the higher-speed wireless is switched on.”

This reality appears to contradict the opinion of one of the most knowledgeable engineers in the Wi-Fi industry, Bill McFarland, CTO at Atheros, who says:

The important metric here is the energy-per-bit transferred, which is the average power consumption divided by the average data rate. This energy can be measured in nanojoules (nJ) per bit transferred, and is the metric to determine how long a battery will last while doing tasks such as VoIP, video transmissions, or file transfers.

For example, Table 1 shows that for 802.11g the data rate is 22 Mbps and the corresponding receive power-consumption average is around 140 mW. While actively receiving, the energy consumed in receiving each bit is about 6.4 nJ. On the transmit side, the energy is about 20.4 nJ per bit.

Looking at these same cases for 802.11n, the data rate has gone up by almost a factor of 10, while power consumption has gone up by only a factor of 5, or in the transmit case, not even a factor of 3.

Thus, the energy efficiency in terms of nJ per bit is greater for 802.11n.

Here is his table that illustrates that point:
Effect of Data Rate on Power Consumption

Source: Wireless Net DesignLine 06/03/2008

The discrepancy between this theoretical superiority of 802.11n’s power efficiency, and the complaints from the field may be explained several ways. For example, the power efficiency may actually be better and the reports wrong. Or there may be some error in the particular implementation of 802.11n in the HD2 – a problem that led HTC to disable it for the initial shipments.

Either way, 2010 will be the year for 802.11n in handsets. I expect all dual-mode handset announcements in the latter part of the year to have 802.11n.

As to why it took so long, I don’t think it did, really. The chips only started shipping this year, and there is a manufacturing lag between chip and phone. I suppose a phone could have started shipping around the same time as the latest iTouch, which was September. But 3 months is not an egregious lag.