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Qualcomm paints Gobi as WiMAX successor

Rushing in where Intel failed to tread

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Chip giant Qualcomm reckons its new Gobi chip will provide the standard connectivity that Intel planned, and failed to deliver, with WiMAX.

Not that the new Gobi3000 incorporates any new networking technology, though it does provide HSPA at twice the download rate of its predecessor while still supporting CDMA and earlier generations of telephony. Rather it enables manufacturers to buy a standard module, from multiple suppliers, which can be dropped into a computing device to provide connectivity anywhere in the world - just like including Wi-Fi, and just what WiMAX was supposed to be.

The other thing about the Gobi3000 is that OEMs won't have to buy it from Qualcomm – modules incorporating the chip will be manufactured by Huawei, Novatel, Option, Sierra Wireless and ZTE. The idea is to make manufacturers more comfortable with embedding cellular networking as a standard feature. Without Gobi the manufacturer has to know where the kit will end up being used, but with Gobi the same module can be dropped into every device and work everywhere.

Which sounds top, but things are about to get a lot more complicated. 3G technologies are already being deployed in newly deregulated frequencies, and 4G networks appearing right across the radio spectrum.

Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm's VP of Cellular, is clear that the challenges of multi-frequency LTE will sort the men from the boys, in terms of their radio-skills, with not all the boys surviving the process. It's not just multiple frequencies that LTE radios will have to cope with, it now looks like we're going to end up with a hodgepodge of time and frequency divided LTE services (the former sending and receiving on the same band, alternately, the latter requiring a pair of frequencies). Chuck in support for today's 3G networks, and 2G legacy support, then add the complexity of handing off between every combination of the above and it's clear things are going to get very complicated indeed.

Which doesn't worry Amon, who reckons the industry can lose a little chaff as the less skilled companies fail to keep up. He anticipates a return to the time when only a handful of companies had the skill to create working radio circuits, and is confident that Qualcomm will be amongst that number. He's probably right, but with increasingly complicated radios the network operators are going to have to start testing handsets properly again - not just rubber stamping them once they're operable on a competitor's network, as that network could be entirely different when we get into 4G technologies.

That's all for the future: Gobi will support LTE at some point, but for the moment it's a 3G chip designed to be dropped into 3G modules which are themselves embedded into consumer electronics for shipping anywhere in the world – a process that Qualcomm is hoping will become standard practice before it becomes a lot harder to do. ®

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