Mobile broadband heads for the big time

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Mobile broadband heads for the big time

ABI Research predicts huge growth for consumer 3G and WiMax.

Mobile broadband via 3G cellular technologies or mobile WiMax, is poised for the consumer mass market, experts have predicted.

A new study from ABI Research suggests that digital cameras, media players and portable game devices are increasingly offering direct mobile broadband connections to the internet.

The analyst firm believes that annual shipments of such devices are expected to approach 50 million by 2012.

"In the near term, connected portable devices will rely more on 3G connections," said principal ABI analyst Philip Solis.

"However, the 3G market is fragmented. There is EV-DO and there is HSPA, and different carriers are using different frequencies in different regions of the world.

"Such fragmentation represents a significant challenge. In addition, such devices must compete against smartphones that increasingly include similar functions."

Solis added that the first products have already appeared, all from South Korea. Two portable video players - Digital Cube's iStationNetforce and Cowon's Q5 - offer 3G connections through add-on HSDPA modules.

The first true device of this class, offering embedded HSDPA, is Samsung's VLUU i70 digital camera.

The 7.2-megapixel device also shoots video, reads e-books, receives T-DMB television, plays MP3s and video, and allows the user to send or download photos and videos.

Nonetheless, ABI Research expects portable game devices and media players to dominate this market.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform and Freescale's Mobile Extreme Convergence platform will help enable cellular-based devices, and a wide ecosystem of WiMax semiconductor vendors will enable devices with embedded WiMax.

"In the longer-term, WiMax has more potential than cellular-based connections for these devices," added Solis.

"It is an IP-based network with simpler architecture and better connection to the internet. Sprint, with its commitment to WiMax, will promote such devices heavily, helping US markets keep up with Korea and Japan in the process."
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