Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Airgo(ne) to Qualcomm

Qualcomm announced last week its purchase of two companies, RF Micro
Devices for its Bluetooth and Airgo Networks for its pre-802.11n chipsets
and intellectual property surrounding MIMO. Although both companies have
received little attention in the enterprise, if Qualcomm has its way,
Airgo's technology would find its way into every handset and laptop.

Airgo, a Silicon Valley company, developed a technology it coined MIMO
(Multiple Input Multiple Output) that leverages multipath to produce a
Wi-Fi product offering higher performance and greater coverage than what
was previously possible. Multipath describes the physical reality that not
all the electromagnetic signals propagating from a transmitting antenna
arrive at the receiving antenna at the same time. Some may take multiple
paths before arriving. A simple rubber-duck antenna, for example, emanates
a signal in the shape of a donut. Although some of the signal may go directly
toward the receiver, some of it may bounce off walls or other hard objects
before arriving at the receiver. Because all RF travels at the same speed,
those signals traveling a longer distance take longer to arrive. This normally
reduces signal quality, but by using multiple antennas it's possible to exploit
the multipath to improve throughput. By simultaneously sending different signals
over each radio-antenna chain and de-coupling them at the receiver, it's
possible to increase throughput and, because of signal processing gain,
distance. MIMO forms a key part of the developing IEEE 802.11n standard,
which raises throughput rates above 100 Mbps. Airgo has forged relationships
with several of the leading consumer Wi-Fi vendors, developed several generations
of chipsets, and just announced its fourth-generation chipset, the AGN400.

MIMO is, without question, a major building block in several wireless
technologies. Although Airgo has several dozen patents pending that hasn't
prevented Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell from building their own MIMO-enabled
chipsets, offering similar claims of performance and coverage. Besides the
WLAN chipset vendors, Motorola has entered the MIMO space by acquiring Orthogon
Systems, maker of point-to-point wireless systems. Nortel has aggressively
marketed its mobile MIMO-powered WiMAX solution that is positioned to outperform
competitive products in terms of coverage, spectral efficiency and, of course,
throughput. Motorola emphasizes the "diversity" capability of its WiMAX products.
Ericsson has demonstrated MIMO support in its HSPA (High Speed Packet Access),
which combines HSDPA in the downlink and Enhanced Uplink in the uplink, both of
which are specified in the 3GPP Release 5/6. Future standards on the 3GPP road map,
HSPA+ (HSPA Evolution) and LTE (Long Term Evolution), specify MIMO as a key feature.
Based on this laundry list of acronyms you should recognize that MIMO be a
significant part of WLANs, WiMAX and cellular products.

Qualcomm was founded to provide a strongly competitive alternative to GSM.
When it developed CDMA and some of the surrounding technologies, it began
licensing its intellectual property to the likes of Nokia and Broadcom for
a significant portion of the BOM (bill of materials). Fiscal fourth quarter
2006 results show licensing and royalty revenue to have contributed a consistent
36.5% of both last quarter and last year's revenue. There has been some resistance
by mobile phone manufacturers to continue paying royalties of approximately 4%
to 5% for 3G products that don't contain nearly the same percentage of Qualcomm
intellectual property and patents that its 2G products had. If licensing rates
were reduced to levels that Nokia and other mobile device manufacturers would
consider "reasonable and non-discriminatory," Qualcomm's revenue stream could
experience a substantial hit.

Although Qualcomm would not likely admit to it, diversifying to other wireless
technologies is a way to hedge its bets as well as to establish and extend other
licensing and royalty strongholds. Qualcomm has plans to use its MediaFLO technology
to deliver video to mobile devices, nationwide, at the 700-MHz frequencies.
Qualcomm has licensed spectrum across the United States and signed up a key
tenant, Verizon Wireless. In January 2006, Qualcomm completed the acquisition
of Flarion Technologies, one of the admittedly more successful mobile broadband
data vendors, both for its product lines and technology, and its intellectual
property and patents on OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex Access),
a key component to Mobile WiMAX.

  • 1