By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
TWICE: Will hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi phones make significant headway as a wireless-data device? As a VoIP phone in the home or enterprise or in Wi-Fi hot spots? Will Wi-Fi/VoIP phones or mobile WiMax/VoIP phones aggressively compete against the established cellular carriers to offer mobile voice communications device?
Laikin: As Wi-Fi gains more acceptance and carrier backing, we will see the demand for hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi phones increase on a global basis. With Skype and Vonage becoming leaders in the VoIP space, I expect to see a hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi/VoIP device launched in the near future. Skype, for example, has partnered with Boingo to offer Wi-Fi access and voice telephony from approximately 18,000 global hot spots. Brightpoint announced agreements with both Skype and Vonage in 2005 to help them penetrate the VoIP marketplace.
Misuraca: Technology is the roadblock for a Wi-Fi cellular phone. A Wi-Fi phone that does double duty needs to have a contiguous network [handoff between networks] to be a truly reliable device.
Burke: As more consumers turn to solutions that enable voice communication over data lines, it is only natural for a converged product to become more in demand. We're in the early phases of a developing market that is more about “voice over data” combining with wide area wireless than it is about Wi-Fi. However, we are bullish on the prospects for Wi-Fi as a technology enabler for this market.
Skarzynski: Cellular incumbents have the advantage of national networks. Until VoIP-dedicated handsets have national networks, they won't be able to effectively compete against current wireless handsets. That said, in an effort to reduce costs, many businesses and homes will replace existing wireline services with VoIP handsets.
Major carriers are planning hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi handsets. These should begin hitting the market in the first half of 2006. Will they make significant head way? It depends on whether consumers feel they are receiving value. Service levels/coverage, rate plans, etc., will be the major factors determining the adoption of hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi handsets.
If hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi service will help eliminate the need for a landline provider, lowers costs and provides convenience to customers, cellular/Wi-Fi will do well.
TWICE: Picture the market 10 years from now. Describe the average handset, average service plan and distribution channel?
Misuraca: The future handset will be voice-activated and not a real handset, just an earpiece. If you need a screen, it will be on your wrist or some other preferred place. Future service plans will be cheap and fast.
Burke: This is an exciting point in time for our industry. Tomorrow's mobile phones are going to change the way we communicate, relate, inform and entertain. Ecosystem thinking will have a huge impact on the mobile experiences and value of the future — the device will enable, but the ecosystem will be important.
Motorola sees a significant opportunity in the ability to seamlessly migrate experiences across devices, networks and environments. Consumers will have a world of continuous, transparent uninterrupted access to each other and be able to select products and services that deliver the information, entertainment and experiences they value. Whenever and wherever a consumer wants it, they will get it. Communication will become “instantaneous, rich and immediate.”
The mobile device is rapidly becoming a personal node in the increasingly networked and media-saturated world. Media that is today broadcast will become “personal-cast,” interactive, immediate and on-demand.
Laptop computer use cases for most consumers (which are already very media, communication and information-related) will converge into an “ecosystem” enabled by the mobile phone of the future.
From better designs to high-tech materials, to high data rates from 3G deployments, to a revolution in interactive media and networks, the pace of technology is accelerating and opportunities abound. The world is becoming seamless.
Skarzynski: It's very hard to predict what the market will look like two years from now, let alone 10. If you think about landline service, the handset has not changed significantly for a long, long time. Analog changed to digital (no rotary dials), tethered became cordless. But there were no revolutionary changes.
With that in mind, we feel handsets will be of the same basic form 10 years from now. Service plans will be “all you can eat.” Consumers like to know how much they are paying for something. There will only be one handset; landline and cellular will merge (or be well on the way to merging). Distribution channels will look pretty much like they do today. Until carriers remove subsidies completely and cede market control, cellular handset distribution will retain its basic structure.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.