Qualcomm tunes into mobile multimedia

Showing off a 3G (third-generation) mobile data network infrastructure that it says can deliver streaming video to cell phones, Qualcomm Inc. on Monday unveiled software that makes the experience of selecting content similar to channel-surfing on a TV.

The MediaFlo Content Distribution System product and service offering was just one piece in a set of technologies the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) pioneer touted as the answer to consumers' mobile multimedia needs. They included the high-speed CDMA2000 1xEV-DO network and enhancements to that technology for efficiently sending out content, as well as new and future Qualcomm processors with multimedia power.

On the phone, MediaFlo users can scroll through a listing of video clips, audio clips, live streaming programming and other multimedia selections, and sample each one by clicking on it. The interface is designed to make it easier and quicker for users to decide if they want to see content, said Paul Jacobs, group president of Qualcomm's wireless and Internet group, in a news conference at the CTIA Wireless trade show in Atlanta.

MediaFlo also has a server component that allows service providers to bring in multimedia content in many different forms and distribute it from one place to another. It is not locked in to certain formats or codecs but can distribute any kind of data the mobile operator wants to provide, Jacobs said.

MediaFlo is available now for service-provider deployment and can run on any packet data network, including current CDMA2000 1x systems, but is designed to take advantage of EV-DO, Jacobs said in an interview following the news conference.

An enhanced version of EV-DO, called Revision A, boosts the network's top speed to a maximum of 3.1M bps (bits per second) downstream and 1.8M bps upstream from the user, according to Qualcomm. It also includes a multicast capability. This technology, called Gold Multicast, lets service providers send one copy of a piece of content to many handsets at once, rather than sending many copies individually. This makes better use of the network's capacity when supplying content that a lot of users want, Jacobs said. Carriers also can send content to individuals if only a few want that particular channel or if a user missed an earlier multicast because the phone was turned off.

MediaFlo also has a client-caching function so carriers can perform multicasts when the network is not in heavy use and users can enjoy that content later, Jacobs said.

Qualcomm also gave a glimpse of new and upcoming generations of processors designed to play that multimedia content. The MSM6550, which forms the basis of EV-DO handsets due in the middle of this year, can support a phone with a 2-megapixel to 4-megapixel digital camera and video at 30 frames per second using the videoconference-quality Common Intermediate Format, said Sanjay Jha, Qualcomm's executive vice president and president of Qualcomm CDMA technologies. That chip, which runs at about 250MHz, will give way next year to approximately 500MHz processors that can support a 4-megapixel to 6-megapixel camera and VGA (Video Graphics Array) video at 30 frames per second, he said.

"Thirty frames per second VGA is your television," Jha said. "You will have a camcorder in your phone." The high capacity of EV-DO will mean subscribers can easily send the pictures and video they capture over the network, he added.

Also on Monday, Qualcomm and ATI Technologies Inc. announced a strategic collaboration to create a next-generation wireless three-dimensional (3D) gaming platform. The deal will bring ATI's ImageOn graphics architecture into Qualcomm's MSM platform, the companies said.

Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm and an inventor of CDMA, opened and closed the news conference. Asked if he believes whether multimode phones have ended the war between CDMA and GSM (Global System for Mobile communications), Jacobs said, "I certainly hope the war is over," adding that he believes it is already over, as CDMA technology forms the basis of all 3G systems. Jacobs said he expects all midrange and high-end cell phones, within two years, to be usable worldwide.

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