10:50 AM -- There was always going to be fierce competition for the top spot of the Leading Lights mobile product category. This year has seen several earth-shaking device launches, the beginning of the 4G era, and the emergence of 3G femtocells in the home and metro coverage areas.
So, here's what was picked to represent this sector of the wireless market in 2010:
Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad 3G -- Apple single-handedly reawakened interest in the tablet computer as a mobile form factor with the launch of the iPad this year. For that fact alone, the iPad would deserve to be shortlisted, but the device also ushered in a creative pay-as-you-go billing scheme at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), with 200MB downloads for $15 a month or $25 for 2GB a month. The iPad has also inspired a number of new applications that take advantage of its capabilities, such as the Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) app, which first arrived on the iPad in April.
High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) Evo 4G -- This dual-mode smartphone was another revolutionary launch this year, supporting both Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s 3G network and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR)'s mobile WiMax for "4G" service in cities where the network is available. Even if the HTC was just a 3G phone, however, the HTC Android would still be a prize-winner with its big screen and superior processing power. The applications that run best on 4G, such as Qik Inc. video chat, however, really push this smartphone over the top.
ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) R8962 TD-LTE base station -- This next-gen piece infrastructure supports what could turn out be the most popular flavor of LTE, the time-division version that sends and receives data on a single channel. (China Mobile Communications Corp. is gearing up to deploy this in its homeland.) ZTE’s R8962 TD-LTE base station sports two channels with 20W transmission power each, while combining compact and lightweight design with improved power efficiency and emissions.
Airvana Inc. HubBub Connected Home Femtocell -- What's the hub, bub? Well, this Airvana box is the first CDMA-based 3G femtocell to go into commercial service in the US and Japan. It took a while, but Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is offering the box, which improves voice and data service in the home, in the US, while KDDI Corp. has it in Japan. The best news for consumers is that -- unlike other femto offerings -- both carriers are giving the HubBub away for free to select customers.
Tekelec /Camiant ATCA-based Multimedia Policy Engine (MPE) for 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 8 and 9 -- Tekelec acquired the MPE when it bought Camiant this year, after the startup scored a deal to deploy this management tool in Verizon Wireless 's upcoming LTE network. The MPE is a real-time core network policy and management tool that will help carriers to actually deliver on the promises of high-speed video and other multimedia applications for LTE.
Ubiquisys Ltd. Public Wireless Colo-Node HSPA -- This box is the first metro-area 3G femtocell. What does that mean? Think of it as a giant hotspot for your iPhone or Android smartphone that will mean better voice and data coverage in crowded metropolitan areas. The box covers an area of about one and a quarter miles and plugs right into cable or DSL for backhaul.
Of course, these weren't the only products we considered for the wireless category. We also considered "MiFi" devices as strong contenders in this category, with both the Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) and the Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. E585 3G router being highlighted as contenders.
In the end, however, we decided that "MiFi" routers, which allow multiple WiFi-enabled devices to connect to one 3G -- or 4G -- signal, to be more of a mobile applications and services story. Were we right? Tell us what you think in the message board below. (See Leading Lights: Mobile Services/Apps Finalists.)