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3G fame spurs R&D on related modems, routers

W-CDMA and 802.11n are widely adopted as mobile communication equipment makers match the latest 3G technologies and devices.

China manufacturers of mobile and wireless communication networking equipment are intensifying product development on 3G data modems and routers to take advantage of the worldwide expansion of 3G networks.

R4 router

Shenzhen Forwell's model R4 router supports 802.11b/g/n and features an SPI firewall.

Devices based on TD-SCDMA, W-CDMA and CDMA2000 EV-DO currently account for 90 percent of the aggregate modem supply, although GSM and CDMA types also abound.

W-CDMA is the most widely used 3G technology, representing 80 percent of global demand. Shenzhen Etcom Technology Co. Ltd exports an average of 3,000 cellular data modems per month. Of these, W-CDMA variants account for about 90 percent.

Shenzhen Strong Rising Electronics Co. Ltd, which began shipping overseas in 2010, offers W-CDMA types as a major product. The player's export ratio has increased from 10 percent last year to 30 percent in mid-2011. Its modem output has doubled YoY, currently averaging 300,000 units per month.

The trend for built-in 3G modules will also gather pace in coming months, interviewed suppliers said. Many portable devices such as laptops and tablet PCs already support embedded 3G modules. Not all these devices are compatible with external modems. While output of the latter is expected to remain relatively the same in the next 12 months, production of the first is predicted to grow.

Aside from modems, China makers have launched or are planning to release 3G routers, particularly 802.11b/g/n types.

New models are expected from Lenk Technology Co. Ltd and Shenzhen Strong Rising in the months ahead. Some manufacturers are developing industrial 3G routers for special applications.

Shenzhen Forwell Wireless Ltd’s products include high-performance commercial-grade units that are rugged, mobile and upgradeable. These allow laptops, webcams, programmable logic controllers, POS terminals, ATMs and Ethernet-based devices to use a single cellular data account for primary or backup connection.

Such releases are utilized in electric power plants, oil fields, coal mines, weather bureaus, gas pipe lines, postal offices and banks.

The global market for 3G modems in 2010 was estimated by In-Stat at more than $3.5 billion. Industry players expect continuous growth along with the rising number of laptops and tablet PCs. Seventy-eight percent of the latter and 65 percent of e-book readers are forecast to ship with embedded 3G/4G modems by 2015. USB modems are also projected to have a CAGR of 18 percent in 2011-15.

China currently accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s supply of cellular data modems. Production volume reached 85 million units last year, up 40 percent from 2009.

Huawei and ZTE are the major players in the line, which consists of at least 100 enterprises. Together, the two Guangdong province-based companies make up 75 percent of the global output. These telecom terminal specialists maintain partnerships with carriers, enabling them to bundle modems with other communication devices for a lower price.

Huawei, which has been a leading cellular data modem manufacturer since 2007, has an advantage over European and American providers volume- and costwise. Nevertheless, the enterprise is exploring other applications in automotive, ammeter and medical treatment to remain buoyant as the technology matures and the threshold easier to penetrate for newcomers.

Because of the limited market and ensuing tight competition, many small players are launching devices that are affordable but deliver poor performance.

More conscientious exporters are concerned quality issues resulting from such practices could affect the industry negatively.

A few manufacturers, including Shenzhen Etcom, are therefore adopting new chipsets to improve product stability. China suppliers prefer Qualcomm’s components.

Some industry players think Wi-Fi smartphones may post a threat to cellular data modems. The first can provide 3G network access to laptops, tablet PCs and other similar devices.

Some, however, said smartphones face restrictions in delivering wireless access. Aside from limited battery capacity, the handset is not designed to serve as a cable-free router. Owners tend to use the device for business applications.

Product gallery

3G router

The SPV450 3G router model from Lenk has a built-in antenna, and maximum 3.1Mbps downlink and 1.8Mbps uplink rates.

Modem & router selection

Cellular data modems from China employ Windows 2000, XP, Vista and 7 OS. 3G versions operate on 850 to 1,900MHz 2G frequencies and 2,100MHz 3G. Those for 2G networks use 800/900 and 1,800MHz.

High-end versions support at least 384Kbps uplink and downlink speed. HSDPA kinds deliver 7.2Mbps maximum download and 384Kbps upload. HSUPA types boast 7.2 and 2Mbps downlink and uplink rates, respectively.

USB-based devices make up the bulk of output. Mainstream releases adopt USB 2.0 to connect to desktop or notebook PCs. A few incorporate RS-232 or PCMCIA ports.

As for 2G modems, slow connection and fewer frequencies are prompting companies to limit production. Demand is not likely to pick up significantly given only a few networks in developing countries employ the technology. The download rate is less than 236.8Kbps and upload is below 118Kbps.

Prices of China-made cellular data modems range from $15 to $40, depending on the transmission rate.

Meanwhile, 3G routers support W-CDMA, CDMA EV-DO or TD-SCDMA, and 2G networks over GSM or CDMA at the same time. They enable Internet access via Wi-Fi, usually through 802.11b/g/n.

Low-end releases, which are typically based on 802.11b/g, are quoted from $40 to $100. High-end variants, adopt 802.11n. Some of these are classified as industrial types. Prices exceed $101.

Besides aesthetic enhancements, makers are prioritizing migration to 802.11n. Many are turning to new chipsets to improve product performance.

Most companies expect prices to remain stable, if not decrease, in the months ahead. Shenzhen Strong forecasts up to 5 percent reduction in the next 12 months.

3G router

Product gallery

Lenk Technology Co. Ltd

Model: K5
Description: 3G router; 802.11b/g/n; 850 to 2,100MHz W-CDMA/UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA, 850 to 1,900MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE, 800 and 1,900MHz EV-DO, 2,100MHz TD-SCDMA/HSDPA; 5V 1A; 1,500mAh lithium battery, USB power; LED indicators

3G modem

Shenzhen Etcom Technology Co. Ltd

Model: W339
Description: 3G modem, HSDPA; MSM6280 chipset; built-in 5-band antenna; 2,100MHz UMTS, 850 to 1,900MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE; up to 7.2Mbps data transfer, 384Kbps uplink; USB 2.0; SIM card slot; voice communication, SMS, USIM card function

3G Wi-Fi router

Shenzhen Etcom Technology Co. Ltd

Model: W356
Description: 3G Wi-Fi router; 802.11b/g; 2,100MHz HSUPA/HSDPA/UMTS, 850 to 1,900MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE, 800 and 1,900MHz EV-DO, 800MHz CDMA; 3.1, 5.76 and 7.2Mbps; WEP, WPA, WPA2 encryption; USB 2.0; microSD card slot, up to 32GB; Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Mac OSX, Linux Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Debian

3G router

Shenzhen Forwell Wireless Ltd

Model: R8
MOQ: 10 units
Delivery: 3 days
Description: 3G router; 802.11b/g/n; WEP, WPA, WPA2 encryption; Internet access, dual active firewalls

Mi-Fi router

Shenzhen Strong Rising Electronics Co. Ltd

Model: E6
MOQ: 1,000 units
Delivery: 7 days
Description: Mi-Fi router; 802.11b/g; up to five Wi-Fi users; 850, 1,900 and 2,100MHz UMTS; 7.2Mbps, 5.76Mbps HSPA; WPS; receive diversity; 1,500mAh battery; 88.5x47.3x13.5mm; 70g

Note: This article "3G fame spurs R&D on related modems, routers" was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.

All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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