Qualcomm’s Lauer Outlines Efforts to Ease Network Bottlenecks at Wireless Conference

[Corrected 11/11/09, 3:15 pm. See below] Qualcomm chief operating officer, Len Lauer, says the San Diego wireless chipmaking giant is working across a broad front of technology development to accommodate a surge in wireless data traffic.

“The mobile Internet has arrived,” Lauer says in the opening keynote talk yesterday at the 2009 3G CDMA Americas Regional Conference. With more than 4 billion wireless subscribers around the world now—including 885 million 3G phone users—Lauer says the growth in wireless data is reflected by a roughly one-third increase in revenue reported over the past year by Verizon, AT&T, and other major carriers.

[Corrects to say Lauer was comparing monthly data traffic in 2014, not monthly growth in data traffic] By 2014, or just five years, Lauer says  worldwide mobile data traffic in one month will exceed total mobile data traffic for all of 2008.

Qualcomm founder and former chairman and CEO Irwin Jacobs and his son Paul Jacobs, who is Qualcomm’s current chairman and CEO, sounded a similar theme when they warned of capacity constraints last month during a keynote appearance at the CTIA Fall 2009 conference in San Diego.

In addition to the increasing demand for mobile data from smart phones and netbooks, Lauer says the trend can only accelerate as new wireless device categories proliferate, especially in what he calls machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Examples of M2M technology developers include CardioNet, a Pennsylvania wireless health company that uses wireless sensors to continuously monitor heart patients for irregular heartbeats; wireless smart grid technologies being deployed by electric utilities (including San Diego Gas & Electric), and eBook devices like Amazon’s Kindle.

“Other operators are seeing this as a viable market, but it is going to take awhile to develop,” Lauer says, citing estimates that 229 million M2M cellular connections are forecast for 2013. “We do see from Qualcomm’s standpoint this being a very large opportunity for our chips.”

To cope with the surge in wireless data traffic, Lauer outlined a range of technology advances that Qualcomm has underway:

—The latest generation of advanced wireless receivers, which include updated revisions to the EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) telecommunications standard (part of Qualcomm’s CDMA2000 family), operate at roughly three times existing data rates. Lauer says many international wireless carriers and device makers have been moving to the updated EV-DO technology over the past six to nine months, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

—The wireless industry’s next-generation standard, which is known as LTE (for Long Term Evolution), significantly boosts data capacity in dense urban areas, and now represents Qualcomm’s largest area of chip development, according to Lauer. Qualcomm also has been tweaking its existing wireless chipsets to enable wireless network operators to consolidate their mobile voice communications onto one channel. This technique can free as many as three other network channels for mobile data, depending on the existing network and how it’s set up.

—Optimizing the efficiencies of wireless networks by deploying what Lauer described as “user-deployed” femtocells, which are small cellular base stations typically designed for use in a home or small business, and “operator-deployed pico cells,” which are typically medium-sized cellular base stations intended to expand coverage in areas with poor reception (such as office buildings and shopping malls) or to extend network capacity in areas with very dense phone usage, such as train stations. Lauer says other changes in the “network topology” include what he calls “remote radio head” technology, which basically moves certain wireless antenna and receiver equipment closer to users and out of cellular base stations.

Lauer says Qualcomm also is looking for ways that the specialized, satellite-based network it has built for its mobile FLO TV broadcasts can be used instead of mobile data networks for downloading videos from YouTube, Hulu, and other video websites. As he puts it, “We’re serious about the data network offload.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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