Wireless technology came upon us in a flash during the 1990s. At first, it was the novelty of the cellular telephone, dialing a person rather than a place. Then the cellular telephone improved when it became "digital," and the rush was on to embrace this new way of staying connected. Concurrent with that growth came the acceptance of, and then dependence upon, the Internet during the last decade. And now wireless designers are faced with the challenge of combining these two former novelties into one reliable, mobile tool for home and office.
The perceived need for broadband networks motivated many telecommunications companies to push for the development of wideband wireless and high-speed optical technologies toward the tail end of the last decade, with the thinking that everyone would want fast Internet access in their homes and mobile Internet access all the time. Whether true or not, the commercial reality of transforming existing optical-communications infrastructures into 40-Gb/s networks and second-generation wireless networks into true broadband communications systems was brought into sharp focus by 1) limited bandwidths defined by cellular and PCS standards, 2) the prohibitive costs of the new technologies, and 3) questionable market demand.
As 2003 winds down, the RF/microwave industry finds itself facing yet another year of disappointing (for most) revenues and company financial spreadsheets. Some pockets of military electronics growth have sparked optimism for some companies. But the majority of firms that have depended on wireless markets for their livelihoods have found 2003 to be perhaps even more challenging than 2002.
Many firms are banking on a "wireless resurrection" of sorts, a return to strong demands for the hardware, software, and test equipment in support of wireless products. Perhaps some encouragement lies ahead in the Keynote Address for the 12th Annual Wireless Systems Design Conference & Expo planned by Dr. Henry Samueli, Co-Founder, Chairman, and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Broadcom Corp. (see p. 33). Dr. Samueli plans to review business trends that have affected the wireless marketplace so far, such as the early dependence on cellular sales. He also points to the growth of wireless as an "add on" technology for tomorrow's consumer electronics, in products such as gaming systems and home-entertainment centers, and the spread of wireless technology into industrial, medical, automotive, and other industrial segments.
Hope for growth in wireless markets depends on such diversity. By not depending upon a single aspect of wireless technology, such as cellular communications, the industry can hope for a more mature and balanced wireless marketplace in the future.