Coming tech trends for 2006

01 Jan 2006

This year's top six telecom tech trends in Asia and elsewhere

You don't need a crystal ball or a crack telecoms consultancy forecast to tell you that telecoms in 2006 is going to be mainly about wireless. And VoIP. All you really need for that was to have paid attention during 2005.

Last year's growing push behind 3G and wireless broadband as near-future paradigms of multi-access broadband, and the arrival of Internet companies like Yahoo, Google, MSN and even eBay (via Skype) as serious if not quite formidable telco voice challengers virtually assured that they would dominate much of the conversation amongst industry players in 2006.

This time, however, at least some of that talk will shift into action this year. In the wireless space, for example, 2005's concerted effort to target the low-end markets with affordable handsets and services paid off handsomely in terms of handset shipments in 2005 - and that was driven mainly by Motorola and Nokia. This year should see more of the same, only more so, and the impact on the vendor and operators communities, as well as the developing markets themselves, will be formidable.

Take also wireless broadband, which most people associate with WiMAX, but is already commercial in both fixed wireless and mobile forms. Even though mobile WiMAX won't arrive this year, existing commercial systems will already be test-driving various business models, and many players will want to know what sticks.

The surge in wireless broadband hype has also heralded a return to the wireless wars between rival standards. GSM and CDMA are already at it again with patent disputes, but WiMAX and new standards like TD-SCDMA are also promising to mix things up as they all go after the same essential market: the nomadic/mobile broadband user. Expect the rhetoric to heat up this year.

Meanwhile, on the fixed-line side of things, the biggest tech trends to expect in 2006 will revolve around broadband differentiation. IPTV will be the Holy Grail for most, and while it won't be big in terms of subscribers and revenue generation, it will be massive in terms of industry hype and investment. You'll be hard pressed to attend a single major forum, exhibition or roundtable that doesn't bring IPTV up, either to sing its praises or denounce it.

Possibly more gratifying this year will be home networks as a broadband differentiator. That will incorporate a number of different technologies, from consumer electronics and WLANs to VDSL and FTTH as loop bandwidth demands increase.

Somewhere in that mix is VoIP, which telcos are now being forced to take seriously now that the Skypes and Googles of the world are now encroaching on their voice territory. Enough Web-based VoIP players are emerging that they will spend as much time competing against themselves as telcos. Whatever the telcos do to fight back in 2006 - and they have several options - the ones that bank on the new breed of VoIP players burning themselves out dotcom style do so at their own risk, because by the end of this year at least two of them will still be standing and in shockingly good shape.

1) Low-end goes prime time

The future is at the bottom - the bottom of the wireless market.

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