AUGMENTING OUR WORLD
One gadget I really would love is a pair of specs that cunningly displays information about the person I’m looking at. So I can shake hands with enthusiasm while I’m reading a little note in the corner of my eye that says ‘Robert Ndlovu, works at IBM. Last met at a conference in Cape Town.’ “Robert,” I’d cry, “It’s been ages - how’s IBM treating you?” Which is a vast improvement on my usual blank look that means someone I’ve met a dozen times still has to remind me of their name. Actually I hate wearing specs, so if that name and face recognition technology could project the information onto my contact lens, that would be ideal. It should happen – eventually - but probably not until I’m retired and can blame my bad memory on age, not carelessness. Incalculable amounts of money and brainpower are being poured into devising such ways to marry the real world with computer-generated information. To supplement the things we see with Augmented Reality (AR) to tell us things we might like to know about them. Several AR applications have already been devised for cellphones, so you can hold the phone’s camera up to a building, for example, and read about its history. It won’t be long before you can do the same with a person, and see their name and salient details hovering over their head when you view them through your cellphone’s camera. But that’s so unsubtle that I’d rather just admit to a memory lapse than pull out my phone and pretend I want to take their photo.
DEFINING AUGMENTING REALITY
AR is one of those fascinating technologies that has been bubbling around for years, and will probably remain bubbling for several years to come. So far there are no compelling applications, the equipment is still clunky, and it’s far too early to estimate whether consumers will actually be interested in the results. In other words, it could become a technology for technology’s sake. Just like the much-hyped ability to watch movies on your cellphone, which occasionally happens, but only in relatively isolated islands of geekiness. The strength of AR is its ability to bring masses of stored data to your instant attention, by superimposing relevant text, graphics, sounds and even smells on top of your view of the real world. Not surprisingly, the military were among its pioneers, to give soldiers crucial information about their surroundings and enemy movements in the area. One commercial niche where it could certainly have a place is in tourism, since you often walk around wearing a headset in museums, art galleries or city centres listening to a commentary about what you’re seeing. If the headset was adapted to feature a display screen that shows text too, or perhaps overlays the ruins in front of you with a splendid scene of how they used to look, then AR could fly.
LOCATION BASED TECHNOLOGIES
Cellphone users can already use location-based technologies to indicate where they are, and that information is shared with others via the internet so friends can locate them, or marketers can send locationspecific offers. As this merges with AR, subscribers could access increasing amounts of data to tell them about their surroundings. Perhaps text from Wikipedia could be displayed on top of the real images you admire through your camera phone on a walking tour, telling you about the area you’re exploring. Images of how the area looked decades ago could be overlaid, or by clicking an icon you could hear some relevant audio. If advertisers got in on the act, a nearby restaurant could pop up with an icon offering you discount.
SOME REAL-WORLD APPLICATIONS
So far the cash-flush gaming world is leading AR developments, but its uses could extend to interactive marketing, education, and “how-to” applications. Probably the best-known examples so far are in sport, with yellow ‘first down’ lines drawn virtually across the pitch in TV broadcasts of American Football. Or the advertisements that appear to be painted onto rugby and cricket pitches by their sponsors when you watch a match on TV. Technology company Qualcomm’s global research and development teams are beavering away with complex computer vision algorithms, computer graphics, tracking and image detection at a new research centre in Austria devoted to the development of AR. The research will build on intellectual property acquired from Imagination Computer Services, a developer of computer vision and AR technology for mobile devices. “As part of our efforts to bring augmented reality to market, Qualcomm has been continually enhancing the capabilities of mobile devices with highspeed connectivity, powerful applications and graphics processors, GPS, cameras and other sensors,” said CEO Paul Jacobs. The acquisition of Imagination’s technology and the new research centre would accelerate this vision to make mobile devices “the remote control for your life,” both in the physical and digital worlds, he said. In June Qualcomm also joined forces with the Georgia Institute of Technology to establish an Augmented Reality Game Studio to pioneer advancements in mobile gaming and interactive media. The university’s Augmented Environments Lab has been researching ways to enhance a user’s senses by creating interactive computing environments for more than 12 years. “Powerful processors and sophisticated graphics engines in today’s mobile devices have only recently reached the point where they can meet the computing requirements for augmented reality,” said Lab Director Blair MacIntyre. “By collaborating with Qualcomm, we’ll have access to both the high-end hardware and core augmented reality technology that will enable us to push the envelope in game development.” AR technology in gaming and military applications on computers has been around for years, but has only recently begun moving onto handheld devices thanks to their increasing sophistication, faster wireless broadband networks, and new and cheaper chip developments. Yet much more experimentation and innovation is needed before any large-scale consumer services actually hit the market. Once they do, said Mark Donovan, a senior analyst at ComScore, we will go from telling applications where we are to applications that tell us about the world around us. We are getting there, slowly. A company called PresseLite has developed a Paris Subway application that uses AR to display information about local businesses when you look at the city through an iPhone camera. Acrossair has developed a similar application for New York’s subway system. If you hold up your phone and look through the camera, the screen will show where the closest subway is, and point toward nearby tourist attractions too. Even so, AR is still little more than a novelty. But as handheld devices and software get cheaper, more sophisticated and more powerful, the level of information they can access and display will increase. It’s just that the way they do it isn’t too convincing yet.
In an interview for The Naked Scientist, Tom Drummond, a senior lecturer at the Machine Intelligence Laboratory at Cambridge University, said AR was about taking computer graphics off the computer screen and making them available over the real world. Since the real world doesn’t have a computer display capability, you need to display those graphics by some other means. Some applications use a clunky headset, which is ok for pilots needing to see vital data about the landscape they’re viewing, but a bit daft if you’re walking down the street merely admiring the architecture. The advantage of Head Mounted Displays, the developers say, is the immersive experience for the user. “When you're looking at the world, the computer graphics are right there in front of your eye,” Drummond said. “So there’s a very strong connection between the virtual elements and the real elements. But there are some negative consequences as well. It’s very difficult to build these systems without latency in them. So when you move your head, the computer graphics might follow a tenth of a second later. Unfortunately, one of the consequences is that it can make people feel motion sickness and it can be very unpleasant to use.” Headsets are also very expensive and cumbersome and get between you and the real world they are trying to enhance. Far more likely to succeed are small, handheld computing devices with a display that uses see-through video techniques to overlay graphical information onto the real-world image. AR on a smart phone is like holding up a magic spy glass to learn something new about what you're looking at, Drummond said. “If there’s some latency and the picture takes a tenth of a second to catch up as you move it, nobody really minds because it’s not directly affecting what you're seeing and conflicting with what your inner ear is telling you.” Applications are already available for iPhones and Google Android phones that use GPS to pinpoint your location and an internal compass to work out which direction the device is pointing in. Then it displays computer graphics like “this is Table Mountain” over the image in the viewfinder. These applications will become very popular, Drummond believes, justifying the huge effort going into shrinking the algorithms down to run in the computer capacity of a cellphone. A third technique being developed is Spatial Augmented Reality (SAR), using digital projectors to display graphical information on physical objects. SAR is a system that can be used for mass audiences, since the displays are not related to devices for individual users. The results can also be larger and more impressive, since an SAR system can display information on several surfaces at once, instead of requiring users to squint at a tiny screen.
MARKETING THE FUTURE
Marketers have already started to use AR to promote their products. At the LA Auto Show in 2008, Nissan unveiled its concept vehicle Cube and gave visitors a brochure. When they held it against a webcam the page showed several versions of the vehicle. But who wants to hold a magazine up to a webcam just for the novelty of reading information they can live without? A more practical use is the possibility of giving people additional information to help them with a complex task such as assembling or maintaining components, or even performing surgery. Details about different engine parts could be displayed for a mechanic – or even a layman – holding their cellphone over the steaming, wheezing engine in his car. In medicine, a doctor performing keyhole surgery could wear a head visor to see images from probes or ultrasounds happening in real-time on the patient. One crucial component of an AR system is a tracking system to pinpoint the user’s location and track their hand or eye movements. The complexities of confirming their overall location and their movements so the graphics display correctly are a major hurdle in developing successful systems. To be effective, AR has to be almost instantaneous. Any time lag or mismatch between the graphics and the actual scene is disorientating. The data needs to be refreshed quickly too as you shift the device to focus on a different view. One day AR displays could look like ordinary glasses, with graphics appearing in your field of vision and audio playing in your ear. Which still sounds awfully disorientating. Imagine walking into a lamppost because you’re concentrating on the text telling you the history of the street you’re in. The technology may eventually become foolproof, but we foolish mortals may need educating in how to use it.
CUTTING THE EDGE
It’s still very much theoretical rather than practical at the moment, however, but it’s edging closer. Developers from MIT’s Media Lab first demonstrated their AR system called SixthSense in 2009. It combines a camera, mirror, small projector and a smartphone in a device that the user hangs around his neck. He uses the camera and mirror to view the surrounding world and that image is fed to the phone, which processes the image, gathers GPS coordinates and pulls data from the internet. The projector then displays the resulting data onto any surface in front of the user, whether it’s their wrist or a wall. Because the camera is on his chest, SixthSense will augment whatever he is looking at. So if he looks at a car, it could call up its specs, pricing and motoring reviews. He can interact with the projected information too, with the camera and phone picking up and processing those actions. With the car, for example, he can use his fingers to tap on projected links to receive more details. Equally exciting is a prototype application unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona which is focusing on the personal touch. Its Swedish developers at The Astonishing Tribe call it Augmented ID, and it works by calling up personal details about somebody when you point a cellphone camera at them. The software trawls the internet for details including their Facebook page and Twitter name and display them around their head. The application was voted one of the most innovative and promising worldwide initiatives of 2009 by the Netexplorateur jury. And it’s basically the first step towards those specs – or contact lens – with the built-in face and name recognition software that I so desperately need.
USING AR FOR EDUCATION
Educause, a non-profit association that advances higher education through the intelligent use of IT, believes AR is promising because it can add contextual data to deepen a student’s understanding of the world and its contents. Its website at www.educause.edu/eli suggests that in a technical course on PC maintenance, AR could overlay a schematic diagram onto the inside of a computer to identify the various components and access technical speciﬁcations about them. Augmented reality blurs the line between the reality the user is experiencing and the appropriate and timely content provided by technology, Educause says. Since every object or place has a history and a context, making that content available to individuals interacting with it will provide a richer experience. By exposing students to an experiential and explorative way of learning, AR has the potential to change education so students are not simply receiving content but take an active role in gathering and processing information.
This issue of Africa Telecoms is focused on New Technologies. With your area of expertise being Mobile and Wireless, how would you describe the current condition on the Mobile and Wireless market when talking about Innovation?
Innovation is still very rapid and operates at several levels: Device hardware is evolving rapidly, for example we’re just seeing mobile devices with multicore processors exceeding 1 GHz, we’ll likely see several new types of display including 3D displays on a few mobiles in the next year or so, new sensors, new types of wireless such as Bluetooth 4, perhaps WiFi Direct protocols, wireless HDMI connections to screens and so on. We have economic evolution as well as technological evolution. Nokia is selling smartphones at EUR 115 retail (before tax), which means we’ll likely have sub EUR 100 smartphones next year. This makes smartphones accessible to a much wider range of people. Networks are also evolving. Many operators are on some form of HSPA. A few have started very early LTE deployments, and we can already see the next long term step on the roadmap which is LTE-A. We’re also seeing rapid innovation in mobile applications and services. Apple has over 300K apps, Android around 100K. Increasingly apps don’t just stand alone but integrate with innovative cloud services. We’re seeing growth in a wide range of mobile services such as payment, context, music, social networking and mobile advertising. I expect rapid evolution in all of these areas (and more) to continue for at least 5 years.
We would like to know from you what you believe will be the next big New Technology in the Mobile and Wireless space?
I don’t see any single “next big” technology. There are probably 20 technologies which are important including context, platform independent AD tools, Bluetooth 3 and 4, mobile HTML5, near field wireless, M2M, LTE, mobile augmented reality, haptics and new screen technologies. I think that in the mobile space, innovation often happens not from one single technology, but a combination of technologies. For example look at augmented reality (AR) tools such as Layar or Wikitude. These enable all sorts of new applications and visualisations such as location aware competitions, marketing, games, geotagging to name but a few. But AR itself is built on a set of underlying essential technologies such as GPS, e-compass, graphics accelerators and tilt sensors. So, in my opinion many of the innovations come from combining technologies rather than from a single technology. However, if I had to identify one technology which we don’t yet have, but when it arrives will be very influential, it would be indoor positioning. The holy grail in this area would be a technology that can locate your position indoors (where GPS doesn’t work) to within 1 metre or so. This would enable a wide range of applications such as indoor navigation, indoor AR, finding products on shelves in shops as examples. Sadly, we don’t yet have any single technology that looks as if it will become a dominant standard, although companies like Nokia have demonstrated some interesting possibilities.
In a recent Blog Post you spoke of the “Rule of 3” used in economic theory being applied across many industries. Specifically, you mentioned computers, PC’s and Mac’s for normal people and Linux for Geeks. Do you think this will be the case in the Operating System arena for Mobiles? And, if so would you care to take a guess at what they might be by 2020? Why do you think this will be the case?
I think mobile OSs will eventually consolidate to around 3 strong leaders, however it will take a long time; I don’t see it happening before 2015 at the earliest, probably later. At the moment the best candidates for the long term “top 3” are Symbian, Android and Apple iOS. But the game is still on and many things could happen before the market stabilises, so it’s not a very safe bet!
Mobile Operating systems are clearly a topic of interest worldwide with some interesting information coming out of Gartner over the last few weeks, specifically with declining Symbian and RIM market shares to increasing Android market share. What do you think the main drivers is in the world of Operating Systems?
I see this not so much as an operating system battle but an ecosystem battle. An ecosystem is bigger than an operating system, and it encompasses users, developers, applications and devices as well as the OS. What will determine the long term fate of the operating systems is the strength (or otherwise) of their ecosystem. A strong ecosystem means lots of applications which makes the platform more attractive to users, which in turn makes developers rich and attracts more developers. It’s a virtuous cycle. Ultimately, however good the OS if you don’t have applications and services the device can’t succeed.
Considering this, do you feel there is space in the market for new operating systems or is consolidation going to take place?
I think in the long term we’re going to see consolidation as I mentioned above. However, in the short term the market will get very competitive indeed. 2011 will likely be the most competitive year ever for platforms and devices because we will have a new Symbian version, the first release of MeeGo, a revitalised webOS from HP, Microsoft phone 7, new iPhone versions and new Android versions. It would be extremely difficult for a new platform to make much impact in such a crowded and competitive space. However, the competition isn’t just around OSs, because new “platforms” are emerging above the OS. E.g. I expect HTML5 will become a popular mobile app delivery platform, some of the AR tools I mentioned earlier are becoming “platforms” of a sort, which just complicates matters further.
A final question on the Operating System front. Do you think Open Source or Proprietary Systems will win the battle and why?
Both will co-exist because they have different, but viable business models. For mass market platforms with many manufacturers, open is attractive because the cost of OS licenses can be an issue and an open source approach allows manufacturers to differentiate their products. However the closed model such as that used by Apple or RIM also has advantages because it ensures a consistent end-to-end experience that includes the device and the services in the cloud.
There are many new areas of technology in the Mobile and Wireless space. Some of the ones that we think will have an effect in Africa specifically include:
a. Mobile Health
b. Mobile Government
c. Augmented Reality
d. Machine to Machine
Would you care to comment on their viability in Africa and what aspects do you think are interesting in these areas? Then, I would also like to know over and above these what else do you think will take Africa by storm in the next 2-5yrs?
I agree that healthcare is a huge mobile opportunity, and we’ve seen mobile phones used for clever applications such as eye tests, health education and support for remote health workers. Perhaps my only concern is price, most citizens won’t be able to afford a high end smartphone so there are still some challenges with what can be delivered. I mentioned AR above, I think it will become a major platform for delivering applications as it’s very user friendly, however it does demand top-end expensive smartphones and high speed networks which limits the opportunities a bit. M-governmwnt is also an opportunity although some applications like m-voting can be challenging for reasons of security and authentication. M2M is interesting but the opportunities in rural areas where signal coverage is poor are limited and in my opinion, although we have seen some examples in emerging markets such as India for water pump control. Another area which I think has great potential and where I’ve seen some very interesting leading work carried out in South Africa is mobile learning, i.e. using the mobile phone either to deliver lessons or to support the learning experience.
Tablets seem to be a technology that are taking the world by storm at the moment with the launch of the Apple iPad, the Cisco Cius and the up coming launches of a number of other including Research in Motion’s (RIM) Playbook. Do you think that this is a viable alternative for Third World Economies like Africa to personal computing (granted if the cost of the devices where to come down)?
Personally, I don’t think the hardware is the big issue. We have had low cost hardware for a while, e.g. the OLPC project. You can build cheap netbooks for the same cost as a cheap tablet. In my opinion, people are getting sidetracked by the hardware hype and forgetting the big issue which is the ultimate goal. The challenge is to deliver applications and content that benefit society, the hardware really doesn’t matter. Added to which many of the new generation of tablets aren’t designed for use in challenging environments such as villages without power; it takes a lot more energy to charge a tablet than a phone for example, and it’s easier to break a tablet when you drop it.
Taking a more global look at the Mobile and Wireless Technologies sector what do you think will be the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2011?
I think 2011 will be one of the most competitive years ever - as I mentioned above. For many of the platform vendors this will be a year when they have to run flat out to stop competitors getting ahead. It will also be a challenging year for network operators because the mindshare is owned by platform and device manufacturers such as Apple or Android, or app stores. It’s becoming increasingly hard to convince consumers that the network matters much.
Moving on from that what do you feel is the biggest opportunity that has arisen and can be commercially exploited in 2011?
I don’t see the market having a simple single opportunity. I think it’s a market of many opportunities at many levels. Mobile is still in the discovery phase of the market, in a sense now we’re moving beyond voice and SMS, yet we’re still trying to find out what mobile phones are for. App stores are discovery machines which let thousands of developers experiment with new services and along the way we’ll find out what’s popular by a sort of Darwinian process. Personally, I believe that one principle underlying many of the most successful new mobile services of the next few years will be context. i.e. applications which are hyper-personalised, sensitive to your location, behaviour needs and habits. For example; in a few years I expect my handset will beep one day and say something to me such as: “Did you remember It’s your wife’s birthday? I see from your mobile payment history today that haven’t bought any flowers, but the traffic is bad so by the time you’ve driven home your favourite florist will be closed. However, there are three flower shops within 500 metres of where you’re standing and one of them got great ratings from two of your friends on Facebook.” We can’t quite do all of this in 2011, but we’re certainly seeing the beginning of apps that can combine location, Facebook data and so on. I think context this is a huge opportunity that will continue to evolve for 5 to 10 years, but even now it can be used to deliver suggestions which are personalised and relevant. And that, after all, is what you want from the personal device in your pocket.
This issue of Africa Telecoms is looking at back at the high and low points of the Telecoms Industry in Africa for 2010 and what’s in store for 2011. As a whole, what do you think the most positive and negative events were for the year? What were the highlights for Qualcomm specifically in Africa for 2010?
The highlight for us this year came from the ‘leap frog’ technology jumps we saw with the launch of UMTS900 networks in Ghana and South Africa and the introduction of HSPA+, which is leading-edge 3G technology. UMTS900 for Africa makes a great deal of sense because it addresses all the key criteria for operators, namely capacity, coverage and the ability to provide data at a lower cost. The FIFA World Cup helped the region tremendously in accelerating telecoms, primarily through the deployment of new deep sea cables and fiber rings which to the end user translated to faster and cheaper data, South Africa being the most positively effected.
2010 was a milestone year for Qualcomm celebrating 25 years of growth and innovation. To what do you attribute this tremendous success?
Twenty-five years ago, our co-founder Dr. Irwin M. Jacobs declared that whatever the endeavour, Qualcomm should always strive to “do the right thing.” That opportunity to make a difference in the world is a principle that continues to guide us today. Qualcomm’s pioneering mobile technologies, coupled with our strong commitment to global citizenship, is making life more connected and more productive for mobile subscribers. It’s been an exciting quarter century for us, for our partners, and for people all around the world who have made mobile a part of their everyday lives.
2010 was also a milestone for South Africa due to the Fifa World Cup. How do you think South Africa faired from a communications perspective?
The FIFA World Cup was a significant catalyst for growth of South Africa’s ICT and mobile telecoms sector. Operators have made substantial infrastructure investments and service upgrades that will benefit subscribers for years to come. In particular, HSPA+ has given consumers significant improvements in data speeds.
Qualcomm has become an Associate Member of the Africa Telecommunications Union (ATU). Could you inform us of what the rationale behind Qualcomm joining the ATU? Do you think that the ATU is currently active enough in the regulation or assistance of regulators in Africa and where could the ATU have more of an influence?
We joined the ATU as part of Qualcomm’s commitment to growth and development of the regional telecoms sector. As many people know, ATU is the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) recognized regional telecommunications organization for Africa. Partnering with operators and government entities is an important element of Qualcomm’s operations in Africa. Our associate membership in ATU provides us another channel to maintain close proximity to the people, governments and important industry events that are driving the African telecommunications industry forward. Africa is a large region and there is currently much emphasis on the harmonization of policies and regulations. ATU, as the specialized agency of the African Union (AU) in the field of telecommunications, is expected to become increasingly more involved in ICT policy issues. We look forward to participating in these policy discussions and working with private sector and government authorities to build awareness of development issues.
Qualcomm, through its Wireless Reach Program recently announced a Mobile Health Information System in the city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Could you tell us more about this project and how active is Wireless Reach in Africa?
In South Africa, where access to relevant health literature and broadband Internet access is limited, nurses at the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex are using 3G wireless technology to provide better care to their patients. The project, called Mobile Health Information System (MHIS), uses commercially available smartphones pre-loaded with an electronic library of professional development materials to help build nurses’ build their knowledge and skills. The library includes digitized medical guidelines, protocols, diagnostic tools and other clinical content drawn from publicly available information sources. It’s designed to enable nurses to deliver comprehensive patient care. The MHIS pilot project was funded by the Henry E. Niles Foundation, John M. Lloyd Foundation, and Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative. MTN provided smartphones, discounted connectivity and technical support. AEDSATELLIFE was the lead implementing agency, developed the Mobile Content Library and trained the nurses and SA Partners provided logistical support. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University carried out the initial needs assessment and the final evaluation research study. We just completed the MHIS pilot. Now that the concept is proven, we’re optimistic that the interest it has generated will provide opportunities to expand the program. In Africa, Wireless Reach has also launched projects in Tanzania and Kenya and is in discussions to implement other projects in the coming year.
One of the more exciting technologies that Africa Telecoms came across in 2010 was that of Augmented Reality (AR). Qualcomm has made its AR extension available to Unity for the development of AR games for Android. Are any games or applications using AR available on the market place as yet? If so could you describe them to us? Finally when can we expect to see AR applications in Africa?
We’ve received a very positive response to Qualcomm’s Augmented Reality platform. As the name suggests, augmented reality is the concept of superimposing digital graphics on top of a view of the real world. Qualcomm’s technology uses a vision-based approach whereby the mobile device processes data captured by the camera in order to recognize what the user is pointing at. Many existing GPS-based Augmented Reality technologies do not use camera data, resulting in graphics that “bounce” or do not appear anchored to the environment. Qualcomm is offering an AR software development kit to developers free of charge, opening the door for them to create a variety of potential application types: games for mobile devices, AR-based advertisements and marketing pieces, instructional applications and much more. The world’s largest toy company, Mattel, has announced plans to commercialize an application based on Qualcomm’s AR platform, a game called “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.” Qualcomm is also in discussions with other companies about similar collaborations. It’s not clear when applications based on Qualcomm’s AR platform will be available in Africa, but we’d certainly like to see developers create products for the African market sooner rather than later.
Multichoice recently announced that it will be using the Qualcomm Services Labs Magic Link TM service for its mobile TV offering. Could you describe what benefit this will be to Multichoice and then to the end user?
Delivering content to consumers on their handheld devices is often challenging due to wide variability in devices’ screen sizes, screen resolution and even differences in content formats. The Magic Link service eliminates these hurdles and allows consumers to discover and enjoy multimedia content directly from their social networks through their devices. We are very excitited about the value proposition of Magic Link. The collaboration with Multichoice enables them to promote content across Africa through the most valuable piece of realestate, namely the mobile device.
2010 also saw a lot of hype around 4G. LTE seems to be winning ground worldwide with many operators announcing intentions to move to LTE. From a technology perspective do you think that the shift from GSM/CDMA to LTE is going to be a difficult move? Has Qualcomm started working on product offerings in the LTE arena?
Qualcomm is LTE-ready and has already announced multimode 3G/LTE chipsets, and there is considerable interest globally in LTE to meet anticipated data demand. With that said, Africa still has a long road to travel with 3G as it starts to pick up pace. 3G still offers very compelling data speeds with single-carrier HSPA+ peak download rates of 21 Mpbs and dual-carrier HSPA+ rates of 42 Mbps. The fastest mobile network in the world right now — Telstra’s Next G network in Australia — is based on 3G HSPA+ technology. This is the same technology used by MTN, Cell C and others for their high-speed 3G services. Certainly, mobile operators in Africa will look to implement new networks in the years ahead. While they are making these plans, though, they will continue to use and upgrade their existing networks, making them faster and faster using the latest 3G technologies. This is good for consumers because it means they don’t need to wait for LTE to enjoy high-speed mobile services.
With that being said, Qualcomm has always been a supporter of the CDMA ecosystem with what seems to be the merging of CDMA and GSM networks in to LTE, how will this affect Qualcomm’s business model moving forward?
Qualcomm’s aim has always been to meet the needs of its partners regardless of which technology path they choose. We provide a variety of products, technologies and services based on CDMA, WCDMA/UMTS, LTE and evolutions of these technologies. Qualcomm is not a systems vendor so we have a unique position in advising and helping our operator partners enhance their networks and deploy new technologies. We also work with an extensive ecosystem of device manufacturers. This flexability has enabled us to function as a trusted advisor to companies across the industry, precisely because Qualcomm’s success depends on the success of its partners.
In your opinion, when can Africa expect to see its first LTE network and which market do you think will be an earlier adopter in Africa of LTE technologies?
I couldn’t speculate on a time or location for the first LTE network, but East Africa and South Africa could well be jump off points. We’ll have to wait and see.