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ARM’s Top Three Cellular Trends

At ARM’s recent TechCon event, I heard from James Bruce, their lead mobile strategist, who gave his views on the three trends he sees underway on the mobile front.

The first is the continued evolution of the smartphone; no surprise there. These are the machines that are expected to replace your laptop someday. At around $600, they’ll focus on features and performance. (And, addressing my kvetch comment following Jim’s article at the end of that link, yes, evidently docking stations are being prepared. He wasn’t able to share any names. I’m just glad I won’t be forced to thumb future articles on a phone.)

The second is the firming up of an entry-level smartphone category, in the $80 range. What will the user give up for that $520? Well, most of the costs are in the screen, the sensors, and in the technology required to make a phone super thin and super low-power. So this category would do much of what the super-smartphone would do, only slower, with less memory, fewer sensors, a larger battery, and lower-quality mechanics. He describes it as being like a 2009-10 smartphone, only cheaper.

The third is the emergence of LTE (long-term evolution) for increased capacity (roughly double) and consistent data rates. It also brings MIMO (multiple in/out) technology to improve reception in harsh urban environments.

Of course, there’s inconsistency in marketing LTE as a 3G or 4G technology. In the US, it’s called 4G because, well, because we like to market things as better than they are whenever we can get away with it. In Europe, on the other hand, they license spectrum per technology. So providers there are staying on the 3G bandwagon for as long as possible. When they move to 4G, they’ll have to pay new licensing fees.

For the record, LTE/Advanced is, according to James, truly a 4G technology.

After that? Well, bandwidth demand is doubling every couple years. Transmission technology can only do so much to keep up with that. Using more and smaller cells – down to the level of femtocells – will be a necessary complement to keep boosting overall system capacity.

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