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Qualcomm considers radical action as pressure mounts

Chipmaker feels the heat in face of likely EU probe

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This reflects a Qualcomm that will be less religious about its own technologies and more ready to embrace open standards in order to drive new revenues, and to keep CDMA healthy by allowing it to coexist with other networks such as Wi-Fi.

On the Flash-OFDM front, however, Qualcomm has not been able to avoid a religious war. In the broadband wireless market, it is promoting a 3G-plus vision based around retaining CDMA as the premier platform for mobility, complemented by OFDM for some high bandwidth multimedia applications plus backhaul. In this, it is seeking to downplay the challenge from WiMAX, whose domination by Intel makes it anathema to Qualcomm - and one of whose objectives was to create a next generation wireless architecture with no reliance on Qualcomm patents.

Qualcomm cannot embrace WiMAX as it (belatedly) has Wi-Fi, because 802.16e aims directly to challenge the dominance of the CDMA family. The CDMA supremo can only support WiMAX if 802.16 in one of two scenarios – if WiMAX is no longer a threat, perhaps if its role remains confined to fixed and portable access, so it can be complementary to CDMA as Wi-Fi is; or if Qualcomm can gain a strong position of its own in WiMAX patents and chip sales.

While the chip giant claims intellectual property within 802.16, and has so far scored two licensees to support these claims – Soma Networks and, last week, UTC (see inset) – it is unlikely to hold a commanding patents position as it does in CDMA. So it has been seeking to create a rival to WiMAX, and a more assured licensing business, around Flash-OFDM and other OFDM patents it holds.

This centered on a bid to revive the moribund activities of the 802.20 taskgroup – whose efforts to create a mobile broadband standard, nicknamed Mobile-Fi, had been largely eclipsed by the increasingly mobile remit of 802.16e, but which had always been heavily focused on the Flarion architecture.

Though once an opponent of Mobile-Fi, Qualcomm now saw its chance to dominate an OFDM standard as Intel did WiMAX in its early days.

Setbacks in the IEEE

However, the IEEE has dealt a blow to this strategy, with a move that the 802.16e faction has been demanding all year. The standards body's SA Standards Board has temporarily suspended deliberations by the 802.20 working group after representatives from Intel and Motorola threatened to file formal complaints about the way the working group's chairman, Jerry Upton, allegedly handled draft proposals in favor of Qualcomm and Kyocera.

Steve Mills, chairman of the Standards Board, told reporters that Upton, officially listed as an independent consultant, had confirmed to the IEEE that he did have a relationship with Qualcomm (Intel says Qualcomm pays him).

Intel has also alleged that Qualcomm had brought people to meetings in order to ensure a majority (technically against IEEE rules, though in practise hardly unusual. In some past taskgroups, packing of meetings has been a spectator sport).

A Qualcomm spokesman said: "Since the IEEE operates on a one-person, one-vote basis, it is not uncommon for companies to bring people to a working group, and what has been alleged for 802.20 has been evident in many 802 organisations."

The company also said that, prior to the complaints, only two draft proposals had actually been submitted, one from Qualcomm alone and one from Qualcomm working with Kyocera.

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