Qualcomm sees wireless device boom

A perfect storm is brewing in wireless communications, which may soon boom like the PC business did in the 1990s as the Web took off, a Qualcomm Inc. executive said Wednesday.

Ubiquitous high-speed wireless data, mobile applications and browsing ability will soon drive demand for 1GHz processors in handheld devices, said Sanjay Jha, executive vice president and group president of CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) technologies at Qualcomm, in San Diego. Speaking at Bank of America's annual investment conference in San Francisco, he compared today's wireless industry to the PC business when 64K bps (bit-per-second) modems and the Netscape browser appeared in the mid-1990s. Those, too, helped drive demand for chips with 1GHz speeds and above, he said.

Within a few years, wireless broadband of 300K bps (bits per second) to 600K bps will be widely available and people on the go will demand more processing power in devices to take advantage of new services, he said. To fill this need, device makers will have to fill in the comparatively empty market space between notebook PCs on the high end and cell phones on the low end, Jha said. Particularly in less developed countries, notebooks won't work as the next step up from phones for mobile data, he said.

Growing demand for processing power on mobile devices plays into Qualcomm's business plans. The pioneer of CDMA has aggressive plans for new silicon to be introduced over the rest of this year and 2007. Manufacturers are already working with one Qualcomm chipset, the MSM (Mobile Station Modem) 7200, that has almost 1GHz of speed: The chipset includes both an ARM 11 chip of 400MHz to 500MHz and an ARM 9 running at about 250MHz, Jha said. That chipset will support HSUPA (High-Speed Uplink Packet Access), a next-generation version of UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) with a higher upstream speed, and will be able to handle VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) calls, he said.

WiMax will help to change the game on mobile wireless as Intel Corp. integrates it into chipsets for notebook PCs, Jha said, though he downplayed the rival wide-area wireless technology. WiMax could become a good technology but needs work, Jha said, particularly in its support for voice and real-time applications.

Flash-OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing), a rival to WiMax, has advantages because it was developed within a single company instead of by a committee, Jha said. Qualcomm acquired that company, Flarion Technologies Inc., last year.

In an interview following his presentation, Jha said Qualcomm is already talking with Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN), a group of mobile operators that last week demanded better licensing terms for network technology. Qualcomm has come under fire for its royalty practices. Jha said his company already meets the industry standard for fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing terms but NGMN wants something beyond that.

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