Due to the economic pressures of the past few years, budgets are still tight in the microwave and RF industry. Many firms continue to put their money toward R&D for highly "safe" (i.e., profitable) markets and take a "wait-and-see" attitude toward more speculative segments. Wireless communications, of course, has always been one of those "iffy" markets. It has both rewarded companies handsomely and left them with an abundance of unsold inventory. According to IMS Research, this year will have some winnersand as usual, some loserswithin the wireless industry. The market-research firm breaks these down into "the good, the bad, and the ugly."

Topping the "good" list are low-power wireless technologies, which are expected to gain a foothold in the smartphone market. According to IMS Research, over 35% of this year's smartphones will be shipped with dual-mode Bluetooth low energy (also known as Bluetooth Smart Ready). In addition, a third major phone brand will incorporate the short-range wireless technology, ANT. In fact, over 10 million ANT+ enabled phones will be shipped in 2012.

Near-field communications (NFC) also will broaden their reach in smartphones. IMS projects that sales of NFC-enabled cellular handsets will accelerate during the next 12 months to reach over 80 million handsets. Showcase events, such as the Summer Olympic Games in London, will help to promote the technology and its benefits.

This year also will see the next big leap in the IEEE 802.11x wireless-local-area-networking (WLAN) standards. Specifically, portable-computing devices will switch from IEEE 802.11n to 802.11ac. IMS Research predicts that more than 3 million computing devices will be fitted with 802.11ac this year. Low-power, WiFi-enabled PC peripherals also will see a boost, as over 2 million units are expected to be shipped.

In terms of "the bad," the market-research firm points to Long Term Evolution (LTE). The issue is not false promises in terms of the technology's capabilities, but rather the fact that it has been overhyped and will not make much impact this year. Although LTE is forecast to be the fourth-generation (4G) technology of choice, IMS Research notes that the tough economic climate has resulted in major deployment setbacks for the industry. Also falling into the "bad" category is the expected decline in mono Bluetooth headsets. Unit shipments are likely to decline at an average of 0.5% year over year.

Finally, the firm listed the "ugly:" WirelessHD will finally enter its death throes. Although WirelessHD has been shipping since 2009, it has not received the industry backing that WiGig has. This year's arrival of WiGig will therefore signify WirelessHD's demise. In the first year, IMS Research predicts shipments of over 1 million for WiGig.