By Mark Long / CIO Today. Updated October 25, 2007.
Qualcomm has unveiled a new multimode chip and associated software that will enable notebook PC makers to embed advanced wireless capabilities into their next-gen products. Called Gobi, the new offering will enable high-speed data connections to the Internet over both 3G and legacy 2G cellular networks, the company said.
"Gobi-enabled notebook computers with global mobile Internet unify the most important wireless carrier network technologies deployed around the world," said Qualcomm COO Sanjay K. Jha. The users of Gobi-enabled laptops can be "confident they can instantly access the Internet without searching for a hotspot," he added.
Buyers shopping for a laptop with embedded high-speed mobile data capabilities currently must choose between the high-speed packet access (HSPA) or evolution-data optimized (EVDO) specs. Gobi promises to give notebook buyers both, allowing users to roam between AT&T's HSPA coverage and EVDO cells operated by Sprint and Verizon Wireless, as well as across the systems of wireless carriers located overseas.
Roaming Between Networks
Notebook manufacturers welcomed the news, saying that Gobi offers significant improvements that will benefit their customers. "HP and Qualcomm share the belief that mobile Internet capability increasingly will be viewed as an essential notebook feature," said Matt Wagner, Hewlett-Packard's director of notebook strategy and planning.
Cellular operators such as Verizon Wireless and Vodaphone also welcomed the news about Gobi. "Clearly, the wireless carriers think there is a market out there but have had no way to participate in it until now," explained Lisa Pierce, vice president at Forrester Research.
Verizon's support is rather surprising given that the new chip potentially could lead to increased subscriber churn at the carriers. Moreover, industry observers note that Verizon Wireless, in particular, has never been one to embrace any technology that calls for an open system, with its recent dispute with the FCC over the open provisions of the 700-MHz wireless auction being a case in point.
"Virtually all laptops today are locked onto a particular provider," Pierce said. "The question is, 'Will there be a way for the carriers to lock this chip?' The answer is probably 'Yes.'"
WiMax Not Included
Gobi integrates all the major cellular RF bands onto a single mobile modem chip. Moreover, GPS functionality is also on tap to enable laptops to access location-based services even as they employ other wireless data modes to interact with the Internet, Qualcomm said.
One capability noticeably absent from Gobi is WiMax, which was recently added to the International Telecommunication Union's list of approved 3G mobile standards. However, the absence of WiMax capabilities might not prove to be a stumbling block to buyers given Intel's commitment to putting WiMax on next-gen laptops.
But for Gobi to fulfill on its seamless roaming promise, the wireless carriers will need to move beyond today's full-time subscription models to embrace day plans, in which customers are able to purchase unlimited use for a single day rather than being forced to subscribe to a monthly plan. "We have seen in the case of Wi-Fi that such a model certainly exists," Pierce noted.
With respect to Verizon in particular, the carrier's support for Gobi is aimed much more at gaining access to customers at AT&T wireless than anything else, Pierce said. "They want to compete with AT&T for the business customer market and therefore need to make it easier for users to move between the two networks," she explained.
Gobi is currently being certified to operate on high-speed EVDO and HSPA networks all over the world, Qualcomm said. Both enterprise and consumer notebooks powered by Gobi are expected to become commercially available during next year's second quarter.