Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Qualcomm's other shoe

After 10 years in which Symbian never supported CDMA or any Qualcomm chipsets, why did Qualcomm join the Symbian Foundation last week? As the EE Times reports, the other shoe dropped this morning:
BARCELONA — Both ST-Ericsson and Qualcomm Inc. have revealed partnership programmes with Nokia based round reference platforms that will use the Symbian Foundation's software.

Qualcomm's deal focuses on developing UMTS mobile devices, initially for North America, that will be based on the S60 software on Symbian OS, running on the San Diego, California- based chip maker's latest MSM7xxx-series and MSM8xxx-series chipsets targeting wireless broadband.

The companies, for long arch rivals due to long standing patent infringement law suits that were finally settled last year, say the first mobile devices based on the collaboration would be expected to launch in mid-2010 and be compatible with the forthcoming Symbian Foundation platform.
Nokia currently has a very limited relationship with US carriers. “UMTS … for North America” means selling S60 smartphones either to AT&T or T-Mobile, competing for shelf space with the iPhone or gPhone respectively. Certainly, outside the US the Nokia smartphones are sold side-by-side with the iPhone by the same carriers.

EE Times plausibly argues that this cooperation is because Nokia last summer finally resolved its patent fight with Qualcomm. In November, analysts told EE Times they thought it unlikely that Nokia would go so far as to buy chips from Qualcomm.

It seems particularly odd that Nokia would start its partnership with Qualcomm with W-CDMA phones — given its sells hundreds of millions worldwide — but perhaps it is just trying to prime the pump. Presumably the next step is to use QCOM chips to sell more CDMA phones in the US, although so far Nokia is outsourcing that work to ODMs.

On a somewhat related note, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs was quoted in Barcelona by CNBC as saying demand for smartphones remains strong. However, unlike his predecessor (Jacobs père), Jacobs fils is a perpetual optimist.

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