Qualcomm Inc. Wednesday quietly announced Gobi, a multimodal chipset that will start popping up in commercial notebooks beginning in the second quarter of 2008. Gobis stated goal? To provide global, ubiquitous mobile Web access across both CDMA2000 EV-DO and GSM-based HSPA networks ¬ two heretofore incompatible technologies. What is left unsaid is the fact that Qualcomm is now positioned to let cellular providers take on WiMAX.
Operators around the world have deployed either CDMA and its high-speed EV-DO revisions (a technology borne out of Qualcomm), or more frequently, GSM with its HSPA broadband flavor. Because of the incompatibility between the two, laptop makers wishing to provide users with the ability to tap into mobile high-speed anywhere would have to purchase two chipsets, one for each technology an expensive proposition at best, and not one that would allow for seamless handoff between the two. Wi-Fi was intended to solve the problem for global travelers, but the difficulties in throughput rates, coverage and the necessity to pay-as-you-go at hotspots with a credit card has made it less ubiquitous and user friendly than it could be.
Enter WiMAX, a 4G standard that has promised to solve these issues by providing a standardized, ubiquitous shroud of high-speed connectivity that will open the floodgates on mobile data applications, spark enhanced revenue streams for everyone involved and give rise to a host of cool gadgets and devices. A WiMAX device can work on any WiMAX network, in theory, much the same way that 802.11 has given most laptops the ability to tap any Wi-Fi network. WiMAX has presented itself as a threat to existing cellular operators by offering non-traditional companies reaching for spectrum in the 700MHz auction, like Google, as well as a few forward-thinking service providers, like Sprint Nextel, the ability to cash in on the seamless long-range mobile Web experience as early as the middle of 2008.
Gobi, however, means that the new laptops can roam across existing 3G coverage areas regardless of technology type, eliminating the footprint holes that exist today and allowing CDMA subscribers to more easily travel abroad and get high-speed mobile Internet access as long as inter-carrier roaming agreements fall into place. Thats a significant competitive boon for operators like Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., for which 4G is still months away, and adds value to their laptop data plans.
Gobi-enabled notebook computers with global mobile Internet unify the most important wireless carrier network technologies deployed around the world, providing comprehensive support for all 3GPP and 3GPP2 technologies, said Sanjay K. Jha, Qualcomm CEO and president of Qualcomm CDMA technologies. We are leveraging Qualcomm’s expertise in multi-mode wireless chipsets to bring unparalleled connectivity to notebook users, who can now be confident they can instantly access the Internet without searching for a hotspot today.
The announcement is also an ostensible win for champions of true, open mobile data connectivity, should Gobi make the leap from laptop to handset. Its also a win for VoIP fans, who can now rely on their softphones as they travel around the world. Gobi comes as the drum for open-access mobile data networks continues to grow louder. Witness Facebook Inc.s Danny Moskovitz reprimand to the industry to tear down the walled garden for good during his keynote at CTIA Wednesday morning. Or Google Inc. and Skypes lobbying the FCC for open-access mandates in the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction. A spokesperson for MySpace told New Telephony at CTIA that he couldnt wait for the networks to be opened up that it was the only way to leverage the power of the Internet for global good and the only way to spark true innovation. And of course there is always Sprints Barry Wests claim that there will be 50 million embedded WiMAX-enabled consumer electronics devices unlocked, mind you by 2010.
There is one caveat: carriers may at first be leery of this secondary promise that Gobi brings. One need look no further than Verizon Wireless agreement this week to reimburse subscribers a total of $1 million following an investigation by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into fraudulent marketing practices on the part of the carrier. The cellco was selling unlimited data plans for $59.99, but terminated about 13,000 users for excessive network use, like downloading movies over the air. Verizon also has been actively lobbying the FCC to eliminate the open-access mandate attached to one patch of the spectrum up for auction in January, and has made no bones about its embrace of the walled garden.