It's the season for looking forward and back, and the IEEE's Spectrum magazine is in the middle of the fray with its annual issue of tech winners and losers. What makes Spectrum's efforts worth noting is the nature of the organization it serves: the IEEE is the world's largest professional technology association.
Spectrum identified five technology winners, five losers and seven projects that readers were asked to vote on (for the full collection ). Not surprisingly, the bulk of the technologies discussed involve network computing.
One of the blue ribbons went to the United Kingdom's BT Group for its US$20 billion effort -- launched in November -- to replace all 16 of its legacy networks by 2012 with a single IP-based MPLS network.
"Although the upgrade will not create the fastest IP-based network around, it will be the most comprehensive one," Spectrum reports. "No large incumbent carrier in the world . . . [has such] a concrete plan for a complete conversion of its phone network to IP, even though all of them would surely acknowledge that such a transformation is inevitable."
Another winner was a cellular base station based on a software-defined radio. While the idea of processing radio signals in software instead of specialized radio gear has been around for a while, the time has finally come, Spectrum says: "Vanu, a small Cambridge, Mass., company, says this year it will begin selling the first cellular base station that can simultaneously process two waveforms - CDMA and GSM - all in software." Ultimately these kind of advances could enable carriers to "add new services and adapt to new standards by merely tweaking software."
Spectrum also bestowed one of its top awards on Innovative Silicon in Switzerland for its Z-RAM technology. "On-chip memory already takes up more than 50% of the surface area of any respectable microprocessor," Spectrum writes. "It's expected to occupy a whopping 83% of the area of high-end processors by 2008. . . . You can fit as much as 5MB of Z-RAM into the space occupied by a single megabyte of conventional embedded memory." Cramming in more memory will significantly improve processor performance.
Losers on Spectrum's list include a flexible LED display that can be fashioned into clothing, and Quaero, a Franco-German search project announced last year that was intended to leapfrog Google.
Technologies that readers were asked to vote on include Linux-based cell phones, holographic data storage devices and a flexible plastic display that might someday replace newsprint.