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Wireless Industry Keeps Building Momentum

Five billion plus.

That is the number of microchips specifically tailored for wireless connectivity that manufacturers are expected to ship during 2013.

So says ABI Research, which added that the leading suppliers will be Qualcomm Inc. and Broadcom Corp.

Engineers will continue to push the limits of wireless communications during 2013, changing our business and personal lives and remaking the landscape for suppliers. And the technology will not be limited to voice communications. Data communication, including machine-to-machine traffic, is rising very fast.

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Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based ABI expects that those 5 billion-plus microchips coming out of fabrication plants will use various communication technologies, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, near field communication and ZigBee. ABI also expects “connectivity combos” — chips that contain more than one technology — in its 2013 forecast. And it’s counting platform solutions such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor platform.

Qualcomm Outlook

Continued uptake of the Snapdragon platform will contribute to Qualcomm’s growth, the research house predicted. Qualcomm reported $19.12 billion in revenue during its 2012 fiscal year, which ended in September. It is forecasting $23 billion to $24 billion worth of revenue in fiscal 2013.

ABI said that in 2013, both Qualcomm and Broadcom will debut new products in near field communication — a technology that ABI analyst Peter Cooney said should gain market acceptance over the next five years. Near field communication allows two devices (such as cellphones) to exchange information by bringing them within close range of one another.

What’s the potential? Near field communication can help people share music, make payments with their mobile phone, pay train fares or parking meters, and a number of other things, according to Broadcom. Citing some earlier research from ABI, Broadcom said the number of near field communication devices is expected to grow from 40 million in 2011 to 800 million in 2016.

Broadcom, which employs 700 people in San Diego, is planning to emphasize the future of the technology during the 2013 CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show), set for Jan. 8-11 in Las Vegas.

The show is expected to produce an avalanche of tech announcements.

And it’s giving a place of honor to Qualcomm’s Chairman and CEO, Paul Jacobs. Jacobs will give a keynote address called “Born Mobile” on the evening before the CES show opens.

When it comes to the future, Qualcomm executives have a lot on their minds. Spokeswoman Courtney Rains said the San Diego company is preparing for a future with a thousand-fold expansion of data traffic. Global data traffic doubled from 2010 to 2011.

To address this, Qualcomm sees a need for more cell sites — including small, indoor cells — and more efficient networks, Rains said.

What do other wireless companies have planned for 2013?

‘Best of What’s New’ Award

Kyocera Communications Inc. plans to introduce a markedly different piece of audio technology to its Android phones early in the year. Its “Smart Sonic Receiver” replaces a speaker with ceramics (one of the Japanese company’s core competencies). The ceramic actuator performs two functions, creating sound waves in the air like a speaker, while creating vibrations that are carried by body tissue directly to the eardrum and inner ear. Kyocera says the technology allows a person to better hear their phone in noisy environments. Popular Science magazine recently gave the Smart Sonic Receiver its “Best of What’s New” award. San Diego-based Kyocera Communications is the headquarters for Kyocera- and Sanyo-branded wireless products and accessories in the Americas.

Wireless is not only for consumers; the technology is taking an expanding role in health care. The La Jolla-based West Health Institute is determining how to harness wireless technology for medical purposes. (See related story on health care.) One innovation is its Sense4Baby device, which applies wireless technology to fetal monitoring. Specifically, the mother wears a fetal heart monitor which transmits data via Bluetooth to a smartphone or a tablet. That, in turn, relays data to the cloud, where an obstetrician and gynecologist can pick it up.

A couple of San Diego County businesses offer high-speed wireless service.

During a recent investor day, executives at Carlsbad-based ViaSat Inc. said that its U.S. consumer broadband service business was growing fast. The company serves both consumer and military markets. It reported a net loss of $22.3 million on revenue of $524.6 million during the first half of its fiscal year, which ends in March.

Leap Wireless International Inc., which offers cellphone service nationwide under the Cricket brand, said in its most recent earnings report that it is investigating cost-effective ways to deliver 4G LTE wireless phone service to additional customers. The initiative “may include deploying facilities-based coverage and/or entering into possible partnerships or joint ventures with others,” Leap said.

The company also said it was exploring cost-effective alternatives to 4G LTE.

Leap reported a net loss of $113.5 million on revenue of $2.39 billion for the first nine months of 2012.

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