Friday 14 November 2008

UMB now officially dead, Long live LTE!

As one article put it, "Qualcomm cancels its own 4G system" going further to mention "Ultramobile broadband (UMB) is ultra dead". I blogged earlier about Nortel abandoning its CDMA business and about CDMA operators defecting to LTE and was sort of waiting for this imminent announcement to happen. There were already rumors about this happening since last year. (Not sure if some Hedge fund managers did be on this ;). UMB is also known as CDMA2000 EV-DO Rev C.

Qualcomm Inc officially announced that it has stopped development of Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB), its next-generation, high-speed wireless technology, and has been making small-scale layoffs as it looks to cut costs in the weakening economy, Chief Executive Paul Jacobs said. Jacobs said the company was putting resources into LTE technology instead.

The company that created CDMA techology, meant for UMB to be CDMA’s 4G play. The company had high hopes for squeezing out WiMAX, positioning UMB to compete directly against LTE. With a logical upgrade path for existing CDMA carriers, UMB was designed to continue the GSM vs CDMA platform war in the fourth generation of wireless technology.

However, Qualcomm in recent years has gained dominance in the LTE development field as well. With Qualcomm now heavily invested in UMTS/HSPA technology, UMB had Qualcomm playing both sides, ensuring that they would be dominant in all CDMA-derived products (both UMB and LTE use technology originally derived from Qualcomm’s oldest CDMA patents).

With WiMAX becoming embraced, and even deployed, globally, UMB failed to gain a single carrier. The main cause for CDMA carriers defecting to WiMAX, has been Qualcomm’s monopoly on the technology. WiMAX trumps UMB in being an industry standard, not controlled or mandated by a single company.

The CDMA Development Group (CDG) has yet to comment on this announcement. However, the CDG has told that their driving force going forward will be to foster CDMA as a low-cost network option, especially in developing nations. Qualcomm still hopes to use CDMA for new networks in Africa, using their own hybrid GSM/UMTS/CDMA chipsets for international roaming when those customers travel abroad.

This leaves LTE as the eventual winner and with Operators already planning to roll out LTE network mid next year, WiMAX is going to get tough competetion from LTE. CDMA2000 operators meanwhile will have to now start planning how to move towards LTE (or WiMAX for that matter). 3GPP has laid down clear evolution path to move to LTE from CDMA2000. Other option which I quoted earlier is the eHRPD approach.

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