Mobilize: Qualcomm's Future in a Post-3G World

Location, Media, and Money Fireside ChatQualcomm is one of the companies that is most identified with 3G cellular technology. After all, the San Diego-based company, founded in 1985, holds key patents on CDMA-based 3G handsets, enabling it to slice a single-digit royalty off every phone. But what will Qualcomm do as carriers transition to higher-speed 4G networks, where the company doesn’t necessarily have such a catbird seat? Well, according to Qualcomm COO Len Lauer, who spoke today at the Mobilize conference in San Francisco, the company is betting on 3G staying around for a good long while and helping extend 3G’s life by offering ways to offload high-bandwidth services.

“Were still saying hello, hello, hello to 3G,” said Lauer. There are still a lot of opportunities left for 3G, and as the world transitions to 4G it will be done in a multi-modal rollout, meaning 4G networks will still work in tandem with the existing 3G network, said Lauer. “We have years and years ahead of us,” he added.

One way to extend the life of 3G and 4G networks even more is by offloading big chunks of data that could clog up the network. Qualcomm has built a broadcast network (sending data from one to many, instead of one to one) based on its MediaFLO wireless technology, and it currently is working with carriers to offer mobile TV broadcast services. If there’s anything that can overload 3G networks, it’s cell phone users watching hours and hours of mobile video. Qualcomm is looking to have its broadcast network offer data streams, as well as mobile video, Lauer said, and it will also be launching mobile video for non-cell phone gadgets like gaming devices, MP3 players, and even the rear-seat screens in cars.

Another way to offload capacity on 3G and eventually 4G networks is by adding more femtocells, which are small, in-building devices that help with spotty cell phone coverage by piggybacking on wired broadband connections. While GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham pointed out that femtocells have failed to find a business model, Lauer said he thought the problems with femtocells will be fixed.

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