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Qualcomm at work on chip to support multiple 700 MHz bands

May defuse tensions over interoperability
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Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is developing a new radio chipset that will be able to support seven spectrum bands, including three below 1 GHz. The product could represent a technical solution to the fierce debate over the fractured 700 MHz band.

The disclosure was part of a much larger filing Qualcomm made to the FCC on Friday voicing its opposition to a mandate for interoperability in the lower 700 MHz band. Initial comments for the FCC's proceeding on the matter closed last week and generated a flood of responses from across the industry.

The debate pits smaller carriers with spectrum in the Lower A Block--including Vulcan Wireless, King Street Wireless (U.S. Cellular's bidding partner), C Spire Wireless and MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS)--against larger carriers, primarily AT&T (NYSE:T). The smaller carriers operate in Band Class 12 while AT&T operates on Lower B and C Block 700 MHz spectrum in Band Class 17.

The smaller carriers argue that AT&T created Band Class 17 through the 3GPP process to muscle them out, and that without interoperability, their networks will languish. AT&T argues that mandating interoperability would not only slow down its LTE device deployment plans and innovation but would open up AT&T customers to harmful interference from Channel 51 broadcast transmissions, which is why it sought to create Band Class 17 in the first place. 

In its filing, Qualcomm said it has accelerated development of its next generation RF chip, the WTR1605L, which it said will support a total of seven frequency bands--three below 1 GHz, three higher bands, and one very high band (such as 2.5 GHz). Qualcomm said it is just beginning the transition to this chip, the MSM-8960, which is occurring in conjunction with its transition to 28-nanometer chips. The company said it expects that the first MSM-8960 chips supporting Band 12 based on the WTR1605L "will begin shipping to device manufacturers in July of this year, and the first devices based on the MSM-8960 should reach store shelves by the end of this year."

Qualcomm said it told Lower A Block licensees that it will provide software to device OEMs to enable them to do the necessary integration (including the addition of the necessary filters) and testing to support LTE roaming on Bands 13 or 17, and/or 25 (Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) PCS G block).

"Because the transition to the WTR1605L and 28-nanometer chips is in its infancy, it would be inappropriate for the FCC to mandate their use," Qualcomm wrote. "Furthermore, as shown above, carriers holding Lower A Block or other 700 MHz spectrum have many different band combinations to choose from to meet their customers' interoperability needs, both within the 700 MHz band and between any of the long list of other 4G bands. A Band 12/17 combination is merely one such combination, and it would be inappropriate for the FCC to mandate that carriers must make this one combination available on every consumer device."

Qualcomm said its own chipset work shows that there is no need for a mandate. "Because of the difficult interference challenges described herein, the fact that existing technology does not offer a solution to these challenges, and Qualcomm's ongoing innovation and collaboration with all carriers and manufacturers, the commission should not require mobile equipment to be capable of operating over all paired commercial spectrum blocks in the Lower 700 MHz band," the company wrote.

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)
- see this IDG News Service article

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AT&T: Building out Qualcomm's 700 MHz will cost at least $1-2B
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