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Qualcomm: Multi-Band Chips Will Take LTE Global

Sarah Thomas
6/27/2012

SAN DIEGO -- Uplinq -- Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) sees the global Long Term Evolution (LTE) market eventually settling on some combination of frequency bands to enable global LTE roaming, but the number of LTE bands in any device built for the 4G network will likely be greater than the typical four-band combination required for 2G and 3G.

In other words, rather than an LTE phone that works everywhere in the world, devices will pack radios for multiple bands in order to work in most places, according to Bill Davidson, Qualcomm senior VP of global marketing and investor relations, who answered LR Mobile's questions in an email interview prior to Qualcomm's developer conference Wednesday.

Davidson says that until the market shakes out, LTE users will have to roam onto 3G networks but that the level of performance will likely be indistinguishable from LTE in most cases.

Fragmented spectrum holdings and a lack of interoperability have made international LTE roaming services limited so far. While LTE is a global standard, there are 40+ bands of spectrum to support, which means that device makers face the challenge of supporting enough bands to create a true roaming experience. Limited space for the RF front-end components and antennas, as well as the component costs, inhibits them from doing so, Davidson says. (See The Myth of LTE Global Roaming.)

The chipset maker's Gobi LTE and Snapdragon S4 processors support the LTE frequency bands specified by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) -- from 700MHz to 2600MHz, as well as global 2G and 3G bands. But most devices, like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s LTE iPad, lack the RF front-end to switch between the various bands. (See Why Apple's iPad Can't LTE Band Hop and iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!.)

"With Qualcomm’s current 4G LTE chipsets, OEMs typically implement (make active) several LTE bands along with the global 2G/3G bands but wind up with different combinations for different regions of the world," Davidson writes.

Qualcomm's position on LTE roaming, as outlined in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this month, is that operators should not be mandated to support roaming between LTE services in different frequencies of the 700MHz band plan as the smaller wireless operators are demanding. (See Cricket Wants to Chirp on Other 4G Networks, Countdown to 4G Roaming in the US?, Verizon Blasts FCC's Roaming Rules and FCC Issues Data Roaming Rules.)

Instead, the chipmaker is working on a seven-band chip -- the MSM 8960 -- that will operate across multiple LTE bands: three frequencies that are below 1GHz and four that are above it. It expects the chip to be available in devices by the end of the year.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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