Hot Trends in Wireless: Android Mobile Devices, 4G, Telehealth

While it may seem that a review of the CTIA Wireless conference is old news, given the show was last month, nothing could be further from the truth, because even though the event is in the rear-view mirror, the emerging trends point to where the industry is going in the future. So, now that the dust has settled, we offer a concise reduction of the big takeaways and stand-out products, as well as the hot handhelds and accessories that are noteworthy, but may not have garnered much press during live coverage.

What's apparent from CTIA 2010 is that Android handsets and tablets, developments in ultra-fast 4G networks and telehealth, or mobile health care, are going to grab a lot of the headlines in the coming years.

Most CTIA attendees would probably agree that the star of the show was Sprint's glittering HTC Evo 4G Android 2.1-powered handset, which quickly gained the moniker of "the mother of all smartphones."

The Evo wowed the crowds with its super-high end specs including a crazy-big 4.3-inch screen and an 8-megapixel camera capable of recording video at 720p. But what makes it really shine is its 4G capability, using Sprint's WiMAX service.

In theory, this means it can download at speeds of 10Mbps or more, with average download speeds coming in at around 3 to 6 Mbps. Of course, that's dependent on using it in one of the 27 cities in which Sprint offers a WiMAX service, using Clearwire's network. (Outside these areas the phone reverts to 3G using plain old EV-DO Rev. A.) The handset also has the MiFi-like ability to share its bandwidth with up to eight other devices such as laptops or iPod Touches by creating a local Wi-Fi hotspot.

Telehealth Watch: Evo 4G to Revolutionize Health Care

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, in his CTIA keynote, said that the Evo and 4G developments will "revolutionize" health care, citing the handset's hotspot capability to connect multiple medical devices and sensors. Hesse, who also spoke at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) mobile healthcare tradeshow recently, said 4G in general will dramatically impact telehealth services, with wireless IT spending in health care growing dramatically.

Of course the Evo wasn't the only Android phone out on display at CTIA -- Samsung was showing off its new Galaxy S handset, while Motorola introduced its i1.

The Galaxy S looks like an iPhone, and features Samsung's new Super Amoled 4-inch display, an internal GPS, the Swype text entry system which allows you to type by sliding a finger from one key to the next and runs on Android 2.1.

By contrast, the Motorola i1, which will run on Nextel's iDEN network, runs the aging Android 1.5 with its standard interface. Perhaps the most notable features on this ruggedized device (Motorola claims it is rain, dust, shock vibration and salt fog proof) is that it's the first Android phone with push-to-talk functionality (useful for people who work in construction, warehousing, hospitality and security) and also the first to come with Opera's highly regarded Opera Mini 5 browser.

Dell also showed off its first U.S. smartphone, the Dell Aero, which will become the second Android handset to arrive on AT&T. Aiming at the budget market is the candybar-style Kyocera Zio M600, which, at about $200 before any rebates, will be one of the lowest cost Android smartphones to date, as well as the company's first smartphone release in six years and first Android product.

Android Tablets to Take on Apple iPad

Some prototypes of Android tablets were also unveiled, powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2 platform and boasting full Flash support, that could be viable challengers to Apple's iPad.

Part of the reason that Android was the talk of the show was the new handsets that were introduced, but also because of the comparative lack of visibility of Palm, BlackBerry, Apple, Microsoft and any other mobile handset makers. But not all of the Android talk was positive: a topic that was also in the front of many visitors' minds was fragmentation, and in particular the fragmentation of the Android platform. There were Android 1.5 devices being launched at the same time as Android 2.1 handsets, while Android 1.6 and 2.0 are also alive and kicking.

Android was only a part of the CTIA story this year though -- another hot topic was 4G networks, with most of the big carriers vying for attention in this area.

T-Mobile USA announced that it is set to expand its HSPA+ network, which is really a 3.5G network rather than a true 4G one, to cover over 100 cities and 185 million people by the end of the year. The new technology can be overlaid on the company's existing 3G network, making it relatively cheap and quick to roll out, providing download speeds of up to 21Mbps -- that's three times faster than T-Mobile's existing 7.2Mbps 3G network.

Meanwhile, Sprint announced that it is planning to roll out its WiMAX service to an additional seven cities this year -- Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and St. Louis. It's also on tap for some big metropolitan areas including New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. This adds to the 27 cities already covered by the end of 2009.

Not to be outdone, Verizon announced that it plans to roll out its 4G network based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology in 25 to 30 cities around the country during the year, covering about 30 percent of the population by the end of 2010. It hopes to double its footprint size in the following 18 months, and by the end of 2013 Verizon says its 4G network will be more comprehensive than its existing 3G network. Its first LTE phone should be available by the middle of 2011, the company said.

In other LTE news, MetroPCS and Samsung took the opportunity to announce that they will also be rolling out an LTE network in the latter part of this year. MetroPCS plans to cover several cities, but as yet the only one to have been announced is Las Vegas. Samsung also gave demonstrations of its SCH-r900 multi-mode CDMA/LTE handset.

What about AT&T? The company didn't have a 4G story to tell this year, instead pushing its 3G MicroCell, which it has developed with Cisco. This residential femtocell routes wireless phone calls through a domestic broadband connection for customers who "live in homes that have coverage impediments that consistently interrupt wireless spectrum, such as dense wall and roof construction or unfavorable terrain." The company will be rolling out the MicroCell nationwide from mid April, priced at $149.99, with rebates of up to $100 available.

Elsewhere there were a host of other phone and accessory announcements. LG showed off several phones including the "eco-friendly" LG Remarq for Sprint, which is 87 percent recyclable and 19 percent of which is made from recycled plastic. There was also the basic LG Cosmos -- a low-cost, slidephone for the Verizon network -- while Samsung showed off its Strive slider and Sunburst touchscreen messaging phones which support AT&T's cloud-based Address Book and Mobile Share.

On the accessory front, one of the more impressive headsets was the BlueAnt T1, which features "Wind Armour Technology" noise cancelling software that the company claims can deliver clear audio in winds of up to 22 miles-per-hour.

Finally, there was some good news for any Blackberry, Nokia, Android and Windows Mobile users who have been looking enviously at the 32GB of storage on the top-of-the-range iPhone 3GS: SanDisk promised "something big" before CTIA, and that something turned out to be a 32GB microSDHC card -- the world's highest-capacity removable memory card for mobile phones, the company claims. That's enough to soup up any compatible BlackBerry, Nokia, Android or Windows Mobile device with enough movies and music to go head-to-head with any iPhone.


Android, mobile device, mobile trends, CTIA, telehealth