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Qualcomm Pushes OFDM

Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) aims to standardize its newly acquired Flash-OFDM technology but remains tight lipped on future plans for commercial network deployments.

Earlier this month the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology stalwart swooped on alternative infrastructure vendor Flarion Technologies, announcing its intent to acquire the startup for a potential value of at least $805 million (see Qualcomm Calls on Flarion).

Flarion has developed a rival proprietary technology to CDMA, called Flash-OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing). OFDM is a modulation scheme that can support an average data rate of around 1.5 Mbit/s for users in a standard, PCS-sized cell site, while using only 1.25 MHz of spectrum. This is more bandwidth efficient than standard cellular networks. To date, Flarion has scored a number of high-profile carrier trials for its technology, including Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) and T-Mobile International AG, and has also started to notch up a number of small commercial deals (see Flarion Wins in Finland , Flarion Touts Double Deal, and Yes, Virginia, There Is a Flarion).

In an effort to rid itself of its proprietary technology tag and boost its chances of future Tier 1 carrier deals, Flarion earlier this year admitted it was keen to standardize Flash-OFDM technology (see Wireless Bytes and Riviera Roundup). Specific details were not revealed.

Qualcomm is now keen to push this development further. “We recognize that broad market adoption requires technologies to be standardized and available to the entire value chain in terms of product development,” says Jeremy James, senior director of corporate communications. “The intention is indeed to move into standard bodies.”

But what are Qualcomm’s options?

Flarion was an original supporter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)’s 802.20 specification, so that remains an outside possibility (see Enter the MAN Haters). More likely, according to analysts, is an attempt to integrate Flarion’s IPR into future cellular specifications from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and 3rd Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2) groups.

And it seems the much hyped 802.16 standard is also not out of Qualcomm’s grasp. Indeed, OFDM technology forms the basis of potential WiMax deployments, a fact Qualcomm’s James is keen to stress. “You can certainly infer something from this: We believe that the OFDMA IP that Qualcomm already has, as well as the IP that Flarion has, is relevant to what is currently being composed in WiMax. Our interest is not by any means limited to that, though. I can imagine activity in more than one body... Unfortunately that is about as specific as we can get. There is an evaluation process going on, and a decision has not been made.”

Whichever option Qualcomm eventually plumps for, such efforts will be welcomed by industry analysts. “Regardless of the specific form it takes, integrating Flarion’s Flash-OFDM into a standard will help to legitimize the technology and ensure that the IPR does not go to waste,” notes Current Analysis's Peter Jarich.

Meanwhile Qualcomm appears reluctant to publicly chase new carrier customers for Flash-OFDM network deployments. The vendor has stated it will support Flarion’s existing deals but won’t make any future market commitment right now. “We will continue Flarion’s discussions, but long-term I have to fall back on my statement that we are not certain of our product roadmap just yet.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung
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