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MWC 2014: What Are We Going to Do with All that Mobile Broadband Speed?

Your next cellphone may have a faster Internet connection than your home computer.

This week, at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona, wireless companies like Qualcomm will be demonstrating LTE Cat6, a technology possible of transmitting data at 300 Mbps. That’s fast enough to download a movie in just over 2 minutes or upload 200 photos in 31 seconds. Under ideal conditions, it’s also faster than all but the speediest home Internet connections. (Like, the kind that cost $300 a month.)

To figure out what the heck we will do with all that speed, we sat down with Matt Grob, Qualcomm’s Chief Technology Officer and a guy who spends a lot of time thinking about the future. He told us about automated cars, UltraHD, and dialysis by telephone.

Q: Will wireless connections ever be faster than wired connections? If so, when?

A: I think that’s already happening and the trend is going to continue. There are already instances where people’s cellular connections at home are the fastest they have.

What hasn’t happened yet, but will in the future, is the evolution of billing and pricing plans. We are introducing technologies to lower costs to the operators. And operators are coming up with more aggressively priced, more interesting data plans, so that you can stay on your cellular connection.

In the future, you’ll spend less time thinking about your connectivity because it will work more smoothly. It will just be there.

Q: How will this increased bandwidth change the way we use our phones?

Continuous monitoring will become a trend. Phones will get a lot better at operating continuously at lower power, which will allow background communication occur all the time. Your phone will constantly communicate with companion devices.

It’s the so-called Internet of Everything. The term has been around for years, but it’s finally becoming enabled right now. You’re seeing very popular home products, for controlling the climate, locks and lights, that easily integrate into a mobile app with technologies like AllJoyn.

The whole movement is exploding right now.

Home automation is one example. Education is another. For example, right now there is a desire to have a school provide tablets for students, but keep the experience separate from their personal applications.

Another way it will change is video. Mobile is really leading the transition to 4K (UltraHD). Video is going to be higher quality, and you need the bandwidth to support that.

Q: As connectivity speeds increase, how will phone design change?

A: The industry is experimenting with a lot of form factors, like wearables—head mounted, wrist mounted. That experiment will continue.

Head mounted displays are fairly promising. I’ve used several of them. Some work needs to be done on the display, and the UI. They have to come along [before the displays are widely adopted].

There are also some very different form factors being experimented with, including displays that are curved and things that can fold up. That’s all going to come in a five-year time frame.

Q:  What about new types of products?

A: Right now a lot of companies are studying autonomous vehicles. We are too. It’s a very exciting area.

Operating a vehicle with cellular won't necessarily require more throughput that we have today, but will require advances to reliability, availability, and security. When we move to 5G networks (in five years or more), we’re hoping to improve the technology to enable a whole different set of applications like this.

Another potential application is medical procedures. Say you need a procedure, such as dialysis treatment, that requires a physician to supervise. Why don’t we have the physician do the monitoring over a wireless link?

That’s a great concept, but to really do again places reliability, availability and security requirements on the radio link. 

Today, when health care companies do this, they take today’s cellular technology and add these functions on top. For 5G, more of these functions will be built in.

Q: Are wired Internet connections going to become obsolete?

A: One of the jokes in the industry is that wired technologies become wireless, and wireless technologies become wired. Wireless already carries more traffic than any other interface. The last piece of the connection is often wireless now.

But wires are not going to go away. We say that the wireless industry created even more wires, with all the chargers and adapters.

Fiber for backhaul is going to be used more. And yet we’re looking at wireless backhaul very seriously too.

 

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