Broadband enabled

1 min read

No sooner has the market for consumer electronics devices incorporating Wi-Fi begun to gain real traction than another, based on high-speed connections via 3G cellular technologies or mobile WiMAX, is starting to take shape.

According to a new study from ABI Research, portable consumer electronics — digital cameras, media players, portable game devices, and more — are beginning to offer direct mobile broadband connections to the Internet. By 2012, annual shipments of such devices are expected to approach 100 million.

"In the near term, connected portable devices will rely more on 3G cellular connections," says principal analyst Philip Solis. "However, the 3G market is fragmented: there is EV-DO, there is HSPA; different carriers are using different frequencies in different regions of the world. Such fragmentation represents a significant challenge. In addition, such devices must compete against smartphones that increasingly include similar functions."

The first few products have already appeared, all from South Korea. Two portable video players — Digital Cube's iStationNetforce and Cowon's Q5 — offer 3G connections through add-on HSDPA modules. "A modular approach makes it easier to support multiple carriers," notes Solis, "but the connectivity is not seamlessly integrated." The first true device of this class, offering embedded HSDPA, is Samsung's VLUU i70 digital camera. Not just a 7.2 megapixel camera, the i70 also shoots video, reads e-books, receives T-DMB television, plays MP3s and video, and allows the user to send or download photos and videos.

Nonetheless, ABI Research expects portable game devices and media players to dominate this market. Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform and Freescale's MXC (Mobile Extreme Convergence platform) will help enable cellular-based devices, and a wide ecosystem of WiMAX semiconductor vendors will enable devices with embedded WiMAX.

"In the longer-term, WiMAX has more potential than cellular-based connections for these devices," says Solis. "It's an IP-based network with simpler architecture and better connection to the Internet. Sprint, with its commitment to WiMAX, will promote such devices heavily, in the process helping US markets keep up with Korea and Japan."

The new study, "Mobile Broadband-Enabled Consumer Electronics", explores how the market for mobile broadband-enabled consumer electronics will play out from 2007 to 2012. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of each air-interface, and indicates which will dominate at the beginning and end of the period.