Qualcomm LTE Slip Could Mean Data Card Delays

Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) will be months later than expected in shipping its first Long Term Evolution (LTE) silicon samples for data cards, which could push back products based on the chipsets to later in 2010.

The chipmaker had originally planned to start sampling MDM multi-radio series chipsets in the second quarter of 2009, but this goal has now slipped by a quarter. (See Qualcomm Targets LTE.)

The MDM chips are Qualcomm's first foray into the LTE silicon market. "We will be providing engineering samples for our MDM9k LTE chips in 3Q 09," a Qualcomm spokeswoman tells Unstrung via email.

These sorts of delays are common in the chip industry but could be important when Verizon Wireless is working on such a tight schedule to get its LTE services up and running next year.

"We are estimating samples in the third quarter and production chips in the second half of 2010,” says Joseph Byrne, analyst at the The Linley Group , of Qualcomm's initial LTE plans. He says this means that production data cards using the silicon will arrive "in the third or fourth quarter" of 2010.

ST-Ericsson is seen as Qualcomm's main rival in the LTE data card silicon business and is expected to produce an LTE-only chip in roughly the same time period.

"My operating assumption is that Verizon will work with ST-Ericsson and Qualcomm for data cards," says Byrne, although he notes that there may be some custom silicon produced in Japan before the late 2010 time-frame.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeff Nelson seemed unperturbed by the possibility of delays when reached early Wednesday evening. "All I'm going to say is, tick-tock, tick-tock, lets get this party started," he told us.

Verizon LTE network plans on track
Earlier this week, Verizon said that it remains on schedule for its planned introduction of the first LTE network early in 2010.

"We're on schedule, maybe even a little ahead of schedule," noted Nelson.

The CDMA operator has so far said that it expects:

  • To launch two trial markets late in 2009
  • An early 2010 launch for its first commercial networks
  • 25 to 30 markets up and running by the end of 2010
  • A complete nationwide LTE network by 2014

Faster 3G for AT&T
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), meanwhile, is sticking to its plan of deploying LTE later than Verizon, in 2011, and compensating by increasing the data speeds offered over its existing 3G infrastructure in the meantime.

"We currently plan to begin trials of LTE equipment in 2010, with limited deployment expected... in 2011," a spokeswoman for the carrier tells Unstrung.

Meanwhile, the company is updating its 3G high-speed packet access (HSPA) with an upgrade that increases the maximum possible downlink speed to 7.2 Mbit/s. The actual average download speeds are likely to be closer to 3 Mbit/s or less. (See WiMax & LTE Meet the Real World.)

"HSPA technology will be deployed in our mobile broadband network beginning later this year, with completion expected in 2011," says the spokeswoman. "Specific markets where initial deployment will take place have not yet been announced."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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