Qualcomm talks tough on patents, 4G

3G chip vendor moves to stake its claim on next-generation networks

The race to define and build next-generation broadband wireless networks is in full swing. And though Qualcomm doesn't like to use the 4G (fourth-generation) term, the company -- a key supplier of chip technology for today's 3G (third-generation) networks -- is already moving to stake its claim in the emerging market for super-fast wireless services.

If some companies had hoped to keep Qualcomm out of the picture by pushing OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) as the airlink technology of choice for 4G networks instead of CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) -- in which the U.S. company has substantial intellectual property rights (IPR) -- they could be in for a surprise.

In an interview with IDG News Service, Bill Davidson, senior vice president of investor relations and international marketing at Qualcomm, said the company has more than 1,000 essential patents for OFDM, OFDMA (OFDM Access) and MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technologies, all of which form the foundation of new 4G technologies, whether WiMax, LTE (Long-Term Evolution) or UMB (Ultra Mobile Broadband). Qualcomm scooped up around 150 OFDM/OFDMA patents through its acquisition of Flarion Technologies.

The following is an edited transcript.

Is OFDM a new area of development for Qualcomm?

If you go back to the beginning of Qualcomm, OFDM was considered a path instead of CDMA. The company ended up going down the CDMA route because CDMA was better able to handle all the things you want to do on a wide-area wireless network. We believe that to this day.

Are you planning any more acquisitions of companies with OFDM technology?

In the last couple of years, our acquisition activity has stepped up. Flarion was clearly the largest deal of the last few years.

Do intellectual property rights play a big role in your acquisition strategy?

They can and, clearly in the case of Flarion, there was a double benefit. First and foremost, we got the only team -- to this day -- to deploy a working mobile OFDM system. We also got the intellectual property rights that came along with the business. Our acquisitions are focused on accelerating time to market on a build versus buy decision and augmenting engineering resources more than we're out trying to grab patents.

What's driving all the interest in OFDM?

We're seeing interest in OFDM because spectrum is becoming available in the 10MHz blocks and wider. From an efficiency standpoint, there's not really a benefit for OFDM over CDMA. But when you get into wider tranches of spectrum, it can be a little less complex to implement.

But isn't 4G -- in which OFDM will play a big role -- all about newer, faster services?

I think OFDM is really just a spectrum play. And, frankly, we don't subscribe to the 4G term. The applications that I've heard discussed aren't a whole lot different from what is being enabled over 3G today.

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John Blau

IDG News Service
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