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Qualcomm Chief Stresses Need for App Efficiency

SAN DIEGO -- Uplinq -- Mobile operators have a lot of work to do on their networks, back-office systems, and service strategies to cope with the flood of mobile data traffic being generated by smartphone and wireless broadband device users, but Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) chairman and CEO Dr. Paul E. Jacobs says applications developers have a role to play, too, in alleviating the increasingly heavy load.

By 2014, more mobile data traffic will be generated in a single month than in the whole of 2008, and global data traffic already exceeds voice traffic on wireless networks, he told attendees here at Qualcomm’s Uplinq conference. (See CTIA 2010: Data Overtakes Voice.)

And while operators are working hard to boost network capacity and performance, developers have a responsibility to build apps that are as efficient as possible, Jacobs stated.

"The fact is there’s a danger of digital brownouts when the supply of bits doesn't meet the demands," Jacobs said during his Wednesday keynote. "That won't make consumers happy. We all have a responsibility to be as efficient as we can."

After AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) did away with its all-you-can-eat mobile data offer, and introduced caps instead, a shared fear among developers was that their apps wouldn't get used by consumers worried about surpassing their data usage limits.

Jacobs's point is that some apps are unnecessarily large or don't use the limited network resources as efficiently as they could be. (See 5 Mobile Apps That Bust Data Caps.)

In addition to the role that developers play, getting more spectrum will be critical to mobile operators as their networks draw closer to their capacity limits, Jacobs stated at a later press conference. To help avoid potential data overload, he asserted, operators need to acquire more spectrum, build networks more densely, offload data traffic to WiFi and broadcast networks, and cooperate more closely with the app developer community.

"If we solve the fundamental problem of capacity, it will let us solve other things as well.".

For example, Jacobs believes that building out a network more densely can lead to tenfold improvements in throughput -- a level of efficiency the industry hasn't seen since the transition from analog to digital.

While data traffic growth has caused problems for operators, Jacobs also commended them on the growth of 3G. He said that, of the world's 5 billion mobile subscribers, more than 1 billion are now connected to 3G networks. That number is on course to grow to 2.8 billion by 2014, with nearly 1.5 million expected to be added during Uplinq's two-day duration.

At the same time that 3G is growing, operators with additional spectrum are addressing the data crunch by complementing their existing networks with next-generation technologies such as Long Term Evolution (LTE).

Qualcomm is trying to do its bit by working on smart antenna solutions that will offload traffic to WiFi or the type of dedicated broadcast network that carries its FLO TV (mobile TV) service, noted Jacobs.

Brew's emerging opportunities
In addition to addressing the data crunch issue, Jacobs used his keynote address to pitch the Brew (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) mobile platform to developers. The CEO boasted that Qualcomm has paid out more than $3 billion to Brew developers, and noted that there are more than 250 million Brew-enabled devices in circulation.

The wireless chip vendor has opened up Brew to major carriers such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Korea's KT Corp. , and China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA), in addition to its traditional CDMA operator base. (See AT&T to Serve More Brew.)

According to Jacobs, Brew's biggest strength is its potential to drive the acceleration of mass-market wireless devices in emerging markets.

Brew is "great for developers looking for a platform that can scale up to smartphones and also work across a broad range of devices, including the least expensive ones in emerging markets," Jacobs said, noting that more than 50 percent of 3G device uptake is expected to occur in emerging markets in 2011.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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