Fortune on Qualcomm: Win-Win Situation


If you're interested in wireless news and you haven't signed up for the Fierce Wireless Newsletter you need to do it. Very interesting news filtered daily in my inbox. I'd rather have it be a blog-like interface, instead of 1990s-style daily emails, but the quality is worth the spam.

Today there were several interesting links, including a wrap-up of recent news from Nokia's perspective and this CDMA overview article about Qualcomm and why the company can't lose. From what I understand from different news sources I've read over the past few days, 3G was a serious topic at 3GSM, and if you talk about 3G you have to talk about Qualcomm who owns all the patents. This article gives an overview of how Qualcomm got there. Even if you sorta know what's going on like me, there's still some good things to learn from the article, which is detailed and well written. Did you know, for example, that Qualcomm was "Quality Communications" at one point? I've always thought their name was a bit weird, now I get it.) Here's some other snippets:

Over the years GSM proved an amazingly successful workhorse of a standard. But the technology was based on a circuit-switched approach, allowing voice to travel as one continuous stream. To send data efficiently, the network needed to be able to chop information up in packets, which the original GSM didn't allow. In the mid-1990s the GSM world started the painstaking process of plotting its future. The players considered a handful of technologies, and after a period of deliberation, a consensus emerged. The third generation of cellular technology would be called UMTS--universal mobile telecommunications system--and would use a CDMA-based technology called wideband CDMA, or WCDMA.

You'd think Qualcomm would have been delighted with the Europeans' decision to embrace CDMA. But no. The details are complicated here, but Qualcomm thought they were going about it all wrong. For one thing, WCDMA wasn't completely compatible with existing CDMA networks. More than that, Qualcomm insists that the WCDMA decision was an attempted end run around the company's patents. "The only reason WCDMA exists is because Europe wanted to do something different that wasn't done by Qualcomm," says Rich Sulpizio, Qualcomm's former president and current head of its China operations.

Yes, well, only their hairdressers know for sure. The result is the same: By summer 2002, Qualcomm says it had signed licensing agreements with virtually all companies planning to use WCDMA technology--deals that Qualcomm says provide royalty rates comparable to those that it earns from CDMA2000 contracts. Not satisfied with just clipping coupons from his patents, Jacobs quickly set out to create the chipsets for the phones and equipment the GSM world will need to power its 3G upgrade. Qualcomm has introduced a line of chipsets for WCDMA phones, which are already sold in Japan, and is working on chipsets that will run both WCDMA and CDMA2000.

Qualcomm says it is happy with both standards, but pull executives aside and they'll admit that they would rather see CDMA2000 flower across the globe. The company makes money in both worlds but will make more of it--and make it faster--with CDMA2000, for two reasons. The first is that CDMA2000 has already taken off, with 37 CDMA2000 networks up and running around the world, vs. two WCDMA networks. (To be fair, GSM partisans say most of today's CDMA2000 networks haven't attained true 3G status yet.) In the U.S., where the technology has taken longer to get off the ground than in Korea, Sprint has completed the first phase of its upgrade, and Verizon is most of the way there. The second reason is that Qualcomm has fewer competitors turning out CDMA-2000 chipsets. Last year the company sold 79 million cellphone chipsets; most were CDMA2000. "Qualcomm has a commercial interest in pushing CDMA2000. The market is there," says Herschel Shosteck, chairman of the Shosteck Group, a telecommunications consulting firm in Wheaton, Md.

There's also an article in the WSJ today that I can't get to about Nokia vs. Qualcomm which would probably be interesting. Anyone with a subscription is more than welcome to copy/paste the text into my comments. ;-) Here's Fierce's summary of the article:

The battle to roll out 3G networks across the world is already about the fight between WCDMA and CDMA2000. But, the European move to 3G is increasingly becoming a battle between Nokia and Qualcomm over the WCDMA chip market in that continent. Since Qualcomm controls some of the patents on WCDMA, the company stands to profit from the proliferation of the technology. But, knowing that its CDMA2000 platform will not make any advances in the European market, Qualcomm now wants to boost its share of the 3G WCDMA chip market in what has traditionally been foreign territory, the home of GSM (and Nokia). Nokia, which controls about 50 percent of the GSM handset market, plans to release its own WCDMA chips and to dominate the 3G handset chip market in Europe. Qualcomm, on the other hand, has said it plans to control 50 percent of WCDMA chip market in the next few years. Nokia hopes to exploit its market share in Europe to keep Qualcomm from making inroads in the GSM/WCDMA market. Qualcomm thinks its knowledge of CDMA technology will give it the edge.

Interesting stuff. A couple more links Reuters article on 3G and The Features on the benefits of EDGE.

You're now up to date on all this 2.5 and 3G stuff. ;-)


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