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Wireless devices to break one-billion barrier in 2011

Tiny ticking time bombs?

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This year, devices with embedded wireless local area networking (WLAN) capability will top one billion for the first time. By 2015, that number will double – and some people are terrified that their ubiquity will spark an electromagnetic apocalypse.

These figures come from a study published on Friday by IHS iSuppli. According to that research group's projections, worldwide shipments of WLAN-enabled devices will reach 1.2 billion in 2011, up over 35 per cent from 2010's 880.4 billion units. By 2015, IHS iSuppli projects that 2.2 billion of the devices will ship.

"In today's world of connected electronics, consumers expect seamless access to Internet communications, services and content in any place and at any time," said Dr. Jagdish Rebello, the research group's senior director and principal analyst for communications and consumer electronics.

Wireless-penetration projections by IHS iSuppli

Wireless devices poised to conquer the world (source: IHS iSuppli)

The growth in WLAN-enabled devices has been led by cell phones, with 512.8 million units projected to ship this year. Mobile PCs are a distant number two, with 230.1 million set to ship in 2011.

Future WLAN-enabled device growth, however, will be spurred by newer categories of embedded devices. IHS iSuppli contends that automotive installations will lead the growth curve, with a compound annual growth rate of 98.2 per cent from 2010 to 2015. WLAN-enabled televisions will be close behind, with a growth rate of 77.8 per cent during the same period.

While the technorati may welcome this burst of wireless connectivity, other segments of the population aren't so sure that such an increase in wireless communication is safe.

Take, for example, the groundswell of opposition to Califonia utility provider PG&E's efforts to equip its customers with RF-enabled, usage-tracking SmartMeters. These benighted devices have encountered a host of non-WLAN problems, such as exorbitant bills and alleged explosions, but it's their RF-communication ability that has set sensitive teeth on edge in the Golden State.

SmartMeters, according to some PG&E customers, have sparked cases of "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" (EHS), with symptoms ranging from rashes to dizziness to heart palpitations to what the World Health Organization delicately describes as "digestive disturbances".

That same WHO report on EHS, however, concludes that "EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure."

That reassurance, however, didn't stop the EMF Safety Network from filing a formal complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission, claiming that "Scientific studies show evidence of biological harm from RF exposure, at levels far below the [Federal Communications Commission] safety standard."

It should be noted that SmartMeters emit about one watt of RF, which is less than most cell phones. And, needless to say, few PG&E customers hold their utility meters upside their heads.

Still, with a doubling of WLAN-capable devices by 2015, expect more and louder complaints from folks who claim that their electrical meters, cars, and televisions are out to get them. ®

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