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Summary:

By 2014 over 2 billion mobile devices will connect to the web. The number is growing fast because more types of devices are leveraging connectivity, but we could see a 3G and 4G schism form between smartphones and non-traditional data devices in the next five years.

Qiq connected insole

The number of mobile devices using integrated wireless broadband is expected to top 2 billion by 2014, according to research firm In-Stat. That forecast represents an 11 percent cumulative annual growth rate in the number of devices that demand wireless services — yet the carrier networks are already struggling to keep up with demand from existing devices.

Perhaps the wireless infrastructure issue would be lessened if we only used smartphones, but increasingly, people are buying other types of devices with wireless capabilities; the average U.S. or Canadian consumer has 1.3 cellular connections, for example. Smartphones are the obvious leader of the pack in terms of sheer numbers — research firm Gartner predicts more handsets than computers will be sold by 2012 — but laptop data cards, portable hotspot devices and e-book readers are eating up the wireless pie, too. Even feature phones, which are still expected to outnumber smartphones in the U.S. until the end of 2011, are nibbling away at the broadband supply. For more examples of non-traditional connected devices, here are seven I never even imagined — among them smart insoles or ski-run trackers.

But the rise of connected devices fighting for wireless connectivity isn’t all doom and gloom. In-Stat highlights a key point in the transition and usage of new 4G technologies, and suggests that “smartphones and computing devices are the only devices expected to transition to 4G technologies over the next five years.”

If that holds true, it will help manage wireless supply with growing demand in several ways. As illustrated in our GigaOM Pro report on the topic (subscription required), 4G technologies such as WiMAX and LTE offer spectrum efficiencies not found in today’s 3G networks, which helps to reduce network congestion. And while such a transition will force service provides to run multiple networks for some time — they’ll still need 3G for e-book readers and those intelligent insoles — devices such as smartphones and laptops requiring faster pipes will use 4G and free up existing 3G resources for less data-intensive mobile gadgets.

Plus, in comparison to the totality of connected gadgets as estimated by Intel (5 billion today) or Ericsson (50 billion by 2020) 2 billion by 2014 on cellular networks isn’t too crazy. In fact, in that light, it looks like cellular operators should aim to take a bigger slice of the connected gadget pie.

Image of Qiq Insole courtesy of 24eight

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com

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  1. Additionally, Harbor Research predicts that there will be 1 billion Machine-to-Machine (M2M) connected devices by 2015.

    http://www.harborresearch.com/_blog/Smart_Business_Blog/post/It's_About_All_The_Smart_Devices_Dummy/

  2. The problem with this will be when they need to split the spectrum they own into 3G and 4G out of the same block.

    It is an illusion that moving traffic to 4G will relieve 3G if it is out of the same spectrum block.

  3. Mobile Connections: Over 5 Billion Served Thursday, July 8, 2010

    [...] mainly on handset subscribers, I wonder if its own future estimates are low. As more devices become connected through the Internet of things, the overall connection numbers should rise accordingly. E-book readers such as the Kindle, [...]

  4. Why Internet of Things Will Change Mobile Networks: Tech News and Analysis « Thursday, December 30, 2010

    [...] The connected devices that use machine-to-machine connections include in-car telematic systems, e-book readers, e-frames, cellular-based security alarms and smart meters with GPRS connections. And that’s only a start! Berg forecasts that the majority of next five billion mobile connections would be hooking into consumer devices, machines and sensors. It’s no surprise that mobile operators such as Sprint and Verizon are betting big on M2M communications and have set-up dedicated units to cash in on this opportunity. [...]

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