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Comms chips

Qualcomm Chips In for World Travel

GLITTER GULCH -- CTIA Wireless 2006 -- World phones that can jump between CDMA and GSM cellular networks seem like a natural for the bleary-eyed business traveler. But despite the fact that such handsets have been available for a couple of years, there hasn't been that much take-up in the corporate world.

That will change soon if Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) CEO Paul Jacobs gets his way. Jacobs says his CDMA gurus are working on closer integration of the components of "world-mode chips" in order to make them less expensive to use in handsets.

Jacobs isn't joking when he points to the price issue as a major drawback for today's CDMA/GSM handsets. The new SCH-i830 smartphone from Samsung Corp. is a stinking $600, and even if you want something a little less fancy it is still going to cost around $300.

"What we've been trying to do now is drive the cost down," says Jacobs. Part of that cost savings, he contends, will be realized through volume production of the phones, but also from making it simpler to design handsets around the chips.

New 3G EV-DO/W-CDMA chips will be "sampling by the end of the year," according to Jacobs. This should mean cheaper world phones sometime in 2007.

This is by no means the only integration effort that Qualcomm is undertaking that will directly affect the phones that corporate users will carry.

After years of downplaying the importance of any kind of WiFi technology, Qualcomm jumped on the 802.11n bandwagon last year. (See Qualcomm's 802.11nlightenment.) "Now we have wireless WAN technologies and wireless LAN technologies. We expect to lead in both those areas," says Jacobs.

This should -- of course -- lead directly to more plentiful dualmode chipsets for combo 802.11/CDMA handsets. (See Qualcomm's WLAN Shoe Drops .)

Qualcomm is, however, still a little cautious on WiFi. The firm is initially working with partners like Atheros Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ATHR) and Philips Semiconductors (NYSE: PHG) on two-chip systems that combine the wireless technologies.

"We're working with partners now," says Jacobs. "As we go forward to the extent that there's a much broader market, then we do the integration."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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