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Looking Ahead: 2011 High-Tech Trends

As a leading product safety certification organization, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has identified several key trends that will continue to gain momentum in 2011 and impact the high-tech industry. These include mobility, sustainability and Smart Grid implementation.


From watching TV to checking e-mail to making online purchases all on a mobile phone, it is obvious that the industry continues to increase what consumers can do while on the go. In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts that by 2015, shoppers around the world are expected to use their mobile phones to purchase goods and services close to $120 billion. What’s more, this year during the holidays, the NRF predicts one in four American adults with a smart phone will use it to research or make holiday purchases.1

UL is helping make mobility a reality by making sure those products and services associated with mobile devices are safer for consumers.

Wireless charging devices: Demand among consumers for wireless charging options and the presence of wireless charging special interest groups have started a movement to eliminate “the last wire.” As a result, a new class of wireless battery chargers has entered the market. UL is developing a first-edition standard for wireless charging stations for use with low-energy products, UL 2738. Before becoming a standard, these requirements will undergo a comprehensive review process by a global Standards Technical Panel (STP). 

Mobile Security:  Every day, an increasing number of products are transmitting data wirelessly, and many customers’ products are utilizing wireless protocols. Through its recent acquisition of RFI Global,  a leading provider of testing, approval and consultancy services to the global technology market, including data security, cellular, wireless and smart card technologies, UL has expanded its expertise and capacity for global customers in wireless product approvals, EMC testing services and data security assessments.

WirelessHD: High definition (HD) is no longer just for home theaters or televisions. Now, consumer electronics, personal computing and portable device products can deliver simplified media streaming and portable HD content. As the first Authorized Test Center approved by the WirelessHD Consortium, UL CCS can perform the Conformance Test Specification to enable consumer electronics devices to bear the WirelessHD logo. Not only will this test and equipment accelerate the availability of WirelessHD technology, it will also give consumers the confidence that products bearing the WirelessHD logo have passed rigorous compliance and interoperability testing. 

Some of these trends will also be discussed and shared through UL’s knowledge seminars at the 2011 International CES.


Today’s criteria for a sustainable product mean that in addition to using environmentally friendly materials, incorporating life cycle assessments and addressing the potential environmental impacts, manufacturers need to make products that work, last and can be disposed of sustainably. 

One of the ways UL is addressing the challenges associated with sustainable products is through the development of Standards and Testing.  Currently, UL Environment is leading a collaborative effort to develop sustainability standards for handheld consumer electronic devices, starting with mobile phones. The standards will consider everything in a product's life cycle, including raw materials, manufacture, use and disposal, as well as energy efficiency and packaging. UL Environment expects initial drafts of the sustainability standards to be completed in late 2010 after input from UL Environment’s Standards Technical Panels (STPs).

Additionally, UL Environment is leading another collaborative effort to develop sustainability standards for modular data centers based on environmental assessment of their entire life cycle. The initial standard establishes environmental and sustainability requirements for modular data centers and their components including servers, racks, interconnect, cooling and power subsystems. After drawing upon input from STPs, UL Environment expects the sustainability standards to be completed in 2011.

Companies must also focus on their sustainability practices and not just on the sustainability of their products. UL’s development of ULE 880 through UL Environment will help to examine sustainability for manufacturing organizations. The standard is intended to be recognized as a uniform, globally applicable system for rating and certifying manufacturing companies of all sizes and sectors with respect to environmental and social performance characteristics.

Smart Grid

The combination of population growth and the everyday development of new electronic devices such as wireless phones, high-definition televisions and even electric vehicles has increased the world’s appetite for energy. Current electric infrastructure is running against major limitations, and now the time has come for a more reliable and efficient grid – the Smart Grid. The Smart Grid is quickly becoming a strong focus, but for successful adoption to take place, performance risks including interoperability, reliability, cyber security, compatibility and quality must first be addressed.

UL is currently working with key stakeholders, such as government agencies, utilities, insurance providers and industry associations, to identify and mitigate opportunities and issues associated with the Smart Grid. Together, these organizations and UL are working to improve the safety of the developing energy-efficient infrastructure. They are also defining safety requirements of supplemental products, such as electric vehicles, smart meters and energy storage units.

For more information on high-tech trends, contact: Carlos Correia.

1: National Retail Federation, Mobile Retail Initiative