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Comms chips

Qualcomm's Home Invasion

CDMA pioneer Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) is planning to do more with the WiFi technology it acquired when it bought Airgo Networks Inc. last year than just add WLAN to cellphones and cellular-enabled laptops. The San Diego-based firm says it will also combine WiFi and cellular in "home base stations" -- little radio routers designed to boost capacity and aid fixed/mobile convergence inside residences -- later this year.

Qualcomm already has technology used by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Linksys , and Junxion Inc. in mini cellular routers. Qualcomm VP of wireless connectivity Greg Raleigh, the former CEO of Airgo, says that the company is now working on combining 3G cellular -- such as CDMA EV-DO and HSDPA -- with the latest 802.11n WLAN specification for a new generation of "multi-megabit" home base station products, "probably later this year."

Users will be able to use the ramped up wireless connectivity for all kinds of voice and data applications in the home, while the router works behind the scenes to switch between WiFi and cellular links. "Absolutely, you just put it in a closet," says Raleigh. "[Even with the 3G wireless link] it’s still faster than your DSL."

Operators could also use the routers as dual-mode hotspots or to provide connectivity on transport such as buses and trains, Qualcomm says.

Qualcomm is by no means the only vendor to eye this new market. Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) -- as well as a few startups -- are also looking into cellular opportunities at home. Qualcomm is the only company that has publicly said it is working on a dual-mode box so far.

Raleigh is also bullish on opportunities for combining EV-DO and WiFi in laptops. "In 2007, EV-DO becomes the thing for laptops ... just as we've seen with WiFi," he claims.

Meanwhile, the Airgo team is busy working on the next cut of its 802.11n chipset; fourth-generation silicon that is sampling now and shoul be available by February or March this year. " 'Draft n' is behind us," Raleigh reckons. "We're moving to WiFi-certified 11n."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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