Thursday, April 3, 2008

Qualcomm on 4G sidelines

As if we needed any more evidence, this week’s CTIA has made it official: the 4G race is down to LTE vs. WiMax, the 4G solutions respectively chosen by Verizon and Sprint, Qualcomm’s two largest US customers.

The CTIA pavilions were emphasizing the two technologies. LTE (the successor to GSM to W-CDMA) is racing to catch up with WiMax, and might even be available next year.

Beating the drum for LTE at CTIA was Arun Sarin, who at Pacific Telesis (then AirTouch) was one of the earliest CDMA backers. Now CEO of Vodafone (and part-owner of Verizon), as a CTIA keynoter he asked the industry to line up behind 3GPP’s LTE and not Intel’s WiMax.

No longer in the running is Qualcomm’s UMB, which was more or less marked for dead after losing Verizon and Sprint. It’s technically possible that Japan’s KDDI could choose UMB, but I don’t know why.

With UMB gone, after dissing WiMax, Qualcomm is clearly in the LTE camp. The MDM9xxx series chips announced in February all support LTE; the CDMA chips also support UMB, but now it’s not clear who will use it.

UMB is the 4G technology based on Flarion’s OFDMA. If UMB fails, it’s not clear what Qualcomm got for its $800 million purchase of Flarion. But then it depends on how many Flarion patents are required to implement the OFDMA LTE.

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