Chalk one up for Qualcomm, which continues to show a keen understanding for where the market trends are going--even if that means they are moving away from CDMA-based technologies. The company announced today its acquisition of MIMO (multiple input multiple output) technology pioneer Airgo, and at the same time announced the introduction of the "world's first 802.11n Draft 2.0 chipset" via that acquisition.
It has to be an interesting morning for Intel and other WiFi chipset makers--and especially Atheros, which teamed up with Qualcomm in February on a chipset reference design for dual-mode mobile and WiFi phones. Apparently Qualcomm believes in the prospect that 802.11 will experience a very high attach rate in mobile phones and laptops and rather pursue the endeavor internally. It looks like Atheros is left in the dust. And where does that leave Intel, which just last week announced plans to put the pre-standard 802.11n technology in its Centrino chips by next year? Qualcomm is now a single source for wireless chipsets that include both the latest WiFi connectivity and 3G technology.
The acquisition as well as its other announced purchase of RF Micro Device's Bluetooth assets fit into Qualcomm's recently announced Snapdragon platform, which is intended for devices ranging from pocket computers to gaming and portable entertainment devices. Snapdragon will incorporate a broad array of mobile broadband capabilities, including CDMA2000/EV-DO, WCDMA (UMTS)/HSDPA/HSUPA, broadcast television and multimedia, WiFi and Bluetooth. (WiMAX isn't part of the mix.)
Not to mention, Qualcomm is getting quite a bit of important MIMO and OFDM intellectual property from Airgo. These two technologies are the backbone of WiMAX and future iterations of CDMA2000 and WCDMA/HSDPA.
Just a year-and-a-half ago former Chairman and CEO Irwin Jacobs said its CDMA business wasn't threatened by WiFi or WiMAX, arguing that WiFi hotspots would be redundant once subscribers could purchase monthly plans from mobile 3G operators and that WiMAX was significantly further behind on the development curve compared with CDMA-based technologies. How fast things change. WiFi hotspot use is experiencing exponential growth as users become accustomed to the idea, while Sprint Nextel is now on the fast track with WiMAX and other vendors are throwing some significant resources behind the technology as well.
Qualcomm has quickly, and smartly, realized there is more to life than CDMA, and the company knows it had better start embracing products that threaten to overrun that business. You can bet it won't ignore WiMAX for much longer. -Lynnette