Follow the Chips

4:30 PM -- I’m often asked about the process of analyzing the wireless market. Obviously, there is no one single wireless market, and the overlaps and assorted twists and turns in both radio and related technologies and marketing can make an attempt to extract meaning quite difficult.

But there is one place I always like to start when trying to predict the future (which is what analysis is really all about), and that’s components -- primarily radio-based chipsets. The reason for this approach is twofold. First, chips embody the basic functionality that will ultimately be made available to the end user. Very large scale integration (VLSI) is the only cost-effective approach to successful products, after all, so every viable player is going to be either developing or using a relatively small set of components.

Second, there is now a well-established food chain that consumes chips, beginning of course with the chip designers themselves. The next link is original device manufacturers, or ODMs, that build boards using these chips, and also write the required diver and related software. These guys work under contract to the original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, who ultimately produce finished goods for sale to end users. An OEM can also be an ODM, of course, but often OEMs are just brands and marketing. All of their engineering and manufacturing is farmed out and they do very little if any R&D.

And all of these guys use the same fairly limited catalog of chips. So that’s always the place to start if you want to see the future of wireless before everyone else does.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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