In the land of the mute, the man with a voice is king; and in the world of wireless, voice will rule and drive future waves of innovation, says an industry expert.
John Hoadley, vice-president of advanced technology with Nortel Networks, says cellular service providers are seeing a huge growth in minutes of use among subscribers.
As operators have developed newer and more convenient services, the industry has continued to mature and is in a position to seriously encroach on landline service, he adds.
"Sprint, for example, has announced that they're almost at 1,000 minutes of use per subscriber (per month) - and that's from 20 million subscribers," Hoadley told a TRLabs wireless conference in Calgary last week. "So you've got this phenomenal growth of minutes of use and in many ways, mobile phones are supplanting wire phones.
"In the developing markets we've had huge trends in new subscribers - China, Russia, India, Brazil ... it's really increased in those nations. And it's all due to new networks that have just rolled out over the last couple of years."
But to capitalize on these successes and satisfy burgeoning markets in North America and elsewhere around the world, much work must still be done to develop and perfect other technologies - in particular broadband innovations - as well as to find ways to combine existing technologies while ensuring security, said Hoadley, who is based in Dallas.
With regard to broadband, Hoadley sees big things coming with WiMAX, which is an upgrade of WiFi (wireless fidelity) technology that connects wireless devices such as cellphones, Palm Pilots and BlackBerries to base stations and transmitters that distribute their voice, photos, video and text over the Internet.
Hoadley said WiMAX will allow digital devices to connect to each other at much higher speeds and over greater distances.
"In the next three to five years, the big trends we see are wireless broadband. In a few ways it has taken some knocks over the years - where some technologies haven't fulfilled the promises some had hoped for - but we're now really seeing it hit its stride."
Over the next few years, hardware manufacturers hope to offer mobile WiMAX products that will let users tap into broadband from virtually anywhere. Full broadband mobility would also lay the ground for new electronic devices and services, Hoadley said.
"(In Korea) the thought was that maybe the laptops would end up driving the thing, but what it ended up being was the under-25 crowd ... it was all the music, the music videos, downloading cartoons. They made it easy by offering an accessible low-cost service."
And unlike previous broadband wireless technologies, WiMAX would be standards-based - likely taking the form of orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), a technology that transmits multiple signals simultaneously over a single transmission path, such as a wireless system.
The advantage of OFDM over other technologies, Hoadley said, is that it allows for higher capacity and higher bandwidth when combined with multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), in addition to less interference and a simple receiver at a lower cost.
Convergence between macro cellular and WiFi, meanwhile, to produce dual-mode cellphones is another area where Hoadley predicts strong growth. WiFi is here to stay, he said, even though many have criticized it in the past, citing substandard capacity, security and quality of service.
"But the WiFi community hasn't just sat still ... there have been many new improvements along the way," he said.
He said some analysts are now predicting 85 per cent of cellphones sold in 2009 will be dual mode, with the first wave of dual-mode devices entering the marketplace this year.
Security, meanwhile, must also be foremost on the minds of wireless operators. Hoadley calls security a "key ingredient" for the success in the wireless world, and urged service providers to take their cue from their wired counterparts.
"Taking what we do in the wired world today and moving it into the wireless world is critical. High-speed access and being able to roam conveniently between two different environments is a wonderful concept, but if you don't have security the whole thing is going to crumble," he said.
High-speed wireless was the topic of choice at this year's three-day conference, said Grant McGibney, director of wireless research with TRLabs, Canada's largest not-for-profit information and communications technology research consortium.
"There was quite a bit of interest on how to get speeds up on wireless data to that of wired Internet, in the home, the office and on the road," McGibney said. "We had two full sessions alone on MIMO."
Other themes included ultra wideband communications, modulation and decoding, wireless protocols and circuits and systems.
The 17th annual conference drew 130 delegates from North America and as far away as Poland and Hong Kong.
(John Ludwick can be reached at email@example.com)