This holiday season, iPhones are at the top of many wish lists. People want to be able to take videos or pictures of their kids opening presents, for example, and upload them to Facebook right away. Yet as more smartphones are purchased by consumers, a problem arises: Cellular networks simply are not prepared to handle this amount of data. In the near future and beyond, this need promises headaches for carriers but opportunities for firms with solutions that raise capacity.

According to Phillip Halford, Product Marketing Manager of Analog Devices' RF Group, "As smartphones increase, more data gets sent through the network. So more sales of smartphones are just going to increase data-throughput requirements. There's also a concern over whether operators can handle the data capacity. In addition, there is a growing trend to design high-speed microwave backhaul links for higher-data-rate capacity to support this backhaul demand."

Companies around the world are prepared to alleviate this burden on the backhaul with products that push the performance envelope without raising power consumption. These products, which range from chips to components, are being designed for the evolution of higher data rates and higher-order modulation schemes.

Such market opportunities stem from the "challenges" put forth by the rise of mobile data. In a presentation on the economy and Internet trends at Morgan Stanley's Web 2.0 Summit this past October, the firm predicted that mobile-Internet usage is and will be bigger than most people think. The company stated, "The explosive Apple iPhone/iTouch ramp shows that usage of mobile devices on IP-based networks should surprise to upside for years to come and bandwidth suppliers (telcos/cable) face serious challenges in managing incremental traffic."

Morgan Stanley also highlighted the changes stemming from mobile capabilities and social networking. The firm stated, "Improvements in social networking and mobile-computing platforms (led by Facebook and Apple ecosystems) are fundamentally changing the ways people communicate with each other and the ways developers/advertisers/ vendors reach consumers."

For more than 10 years, the wireless industry has been talking about what it would take for consumers to send data back and forth on a grand scale. It turns out that the key was not simply the right network infrastructure, handheld devices, or price points. The biggest driver seems to be the rise of social networking and the urge for people to share bits and pieces of their lives. The world is clearly changing as consumers increasingly turn to wireless data for social networking and other uses. The resulting opportunities, while welcome, guarantee a busy year for many microwave firms in 2010. Remember to take some time this holiday season to unwind and enjoy being with family and friends. From all of us at Microwaves & RF, happy holidays!