New Gobi chip set: A Xohm killer?

Qualcomm technology seen as WiMax competitor

Qualcomm has quietly announced a new embedded chip set named Gobi for laptops. The goal is to provide WAN wireless data connections globally without locking in users to a particular telecommunications carrier.

The Gobi chip set and related software will start shipping in business and consumer notebooks in the second quarter of 2008, Qualcomm said in a news release issued earlier Wednesday. Qualcomm executives at the CTIA's Wireless IT & Entertainment 2007 show would not discuss the announcement Tuesday, but left a suggestive "come back tomorrow" sign posted above an empty shelf at the Qualcomm booth.

"This is very important technology," said James Brehm, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan who was briefed in advance by Qualcomm. The chip set will allow laptop users to cross countries and carriers with broadband wireless data connections not available today, he said.

Today, laptop users can connect with wideband cellular data cards to a particular carrier, with service ranging from US$50 to US$60 a month. Users with the same technology embedded in the laptop must rely on one carrier for service for the life of the laptop, or until they somehow swap out the embedded device, analysts said.

The new capability of Gobi could pose enormous problems for Sprint Nextel and its WiMax initiative called Xohm. Gobi will erase complexities of connecting via numerous Wi-Fi hot spots and will even help Qualcomm compete with WiMax technology, Brehm said. "Gobi is a competitor to WiMax and will even mitigate the WiMax factor," he added.

Asked at the CTIA conference what Qualcomm was doing to prepare for WiMax, Greg Raleigh, vice president of wireless connectivity at Qualcomm, said the chip maker has decided to watch how WiMax performs as time unfolds and urged industry observers to wait for more information about the announcement, due later today.

Qualcomm's press release includes endorsements of the Gobi technology by an executive for Verizon Wireless -- a direct Sprint Xohm competitor -- as well an executive for Vodafone Group. In the release, an executive at Hewlett-Packard Co. also praises Gobi for enhancing laptop roaming and choice of operators.

Brehm said Qualcomm told him 18 laptops would ship with Gobi already embedded, and that pricing has not been announced. Qualcomm said Gobi is being certified to operate in CDMA2000 EV-DO and UMTS HSPA networks worldwide. The chip set will also support both EV-DO Rev. A and HSPA networks, with full backward compatibility, and support for GPS functionality, Qualcomm said.

"Users will be able to connect with laptops over CDMA in the US and GSM in Europe as well as elsewhere," Brehm said.

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