Qualcomm has announced a notebook chip that operates over the two dominant cellular broadband technologies, enabling users to more easily roam internationally. It won’t, however, support WiMax, the emerging wireless standard that Intel is heavily promoting.
Qualcomm’s so-called Gobi chip will go on sale in enterprise and consumer notebooks beginning in the second quarter of next year.
Most enterprise notebooks in the US are powered by chips that run on AT&T’s evolution-data optimized (EV-DO) network or high-speed packet access (HSPA) networks owned by Sprint Nextel or Verizon. Both of these types of networks are also implemented outside the US, with HSPA being more prolific.
Gobi would enable users in various countries to more easily connect online without searching for a hotspot, said Qualcomm COO Sanjay Jha in a statement.
Gobi will be the brand for Qualcomm’s future multi-node chips, which will include other wireless broadband technologies, said VP of Qualcomm’s wireless group Greg Raleigh.
They include ultra mobile broadband (UMB), 3GPP long term evolution (LTE), and HSPA+, he said. These technologies are definitely being supported by carriers and there’s no question they will become part of a worldwide infrastructure, according to Raleigh , who was the chief executive of Airgo Networks before Qualcomm bought for an undisclosed sum last December.
WiMax, on the other hand, is not the preferred path for migration for majority of carriers around the world, he said. He said WiMax was not at the point yet where it made economic sense for Qualcomm to invest in.
The company would add different network nodes to Gobi once those technology had an economic case, sufficient network deployment, a decent subscriber base and were at the point where carriers were making money with the services, Raleigh said.
WiMax may potentially be at this point in four or five years, in which case Qualcomm would potentially add it to Gobi, he said. In my personal opinion, WiMax has received undue attention because of all the marketing money, Raleigh said.
UMB, LTE and HSPA +, which all include multiple-input multiple output (MIMO) technologies, are the emerging technologies that most of the world’s largest carriers were looking at, Raleigh said. He pointed to AT&T and Verizon in the US, and Vodafone, TMobile, Orange and Telefonica in Europe.
These technologies will find their way to market, he said. We focus on real technologies for real people today.
The goal for Gobi is for it to be a brand name that consumers identify with being able to connect to virtually all the important networks, Raleigh said.
There are a few hundred WiMax trials and deployments around the world. In the US, Sprint Nextel is currently building, with the help of Clearwire, what it promises will be the first nationwide WiMax network. However, Sprint recently replaced its CEO amid rumors that costs for the WiMax project were ballooning.
Intel has invested substantially in WiMax and has developed a WiMax chipset. Raleigh said he did not think Intel understands the carrier world. If you don’t have carriers on board, you can’t make money from them, he said.
Hewlett-Packard, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone yesterday voiced their support for Gobi.
Because Gobi operates on both major networks in the US, enterprises should be able to negotiate better rates among AT&T and the two major local HSPA carriers. It also makes the job of the IT ordering department a little easier.
These networks, however, do not compete with WiMax. Intel is clearly hoping that it will duplicate the success it had with WiFi. But Qualcomm is not alone in being cautious about WiMax, which has indeed received a lot of hype. Most WiMax silicon makers are smaller, niche players, with Texas Instruments being a notable exception.
Still, some of the world’s biggest carriers, including AT&T, are members of the WiMax Forum. Vodafone recently joined and is currently trialing the technology in Malta. And equipment and device makers including Alcatel, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Siemens are either investing in or trialing WiMax technology.