High-speed wireless dreams

Arik Hesseldahl
07 Nov 2006
00:00

Just when it seemed that the overused wireless catchphrase '3G' might finally fade from memory, new technologies are starting to emerge and stake their own claim to the post-3G zeitgeist.

For years 3G, or 'third generation,' denoted some future wireless utopia where voice, data, and video would all merge into a wondrous amalgam, marked by snazzy phones that do everything perfectly-and fast.

But there's a new wireless utopia, and again, it's about merging voice, data, and all the other stuff at even faster speeds.

One of them is known as High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, or HSDPA, and it has started appearing on wireless networks operated by companies such as Vodaphone (VOD) in Europe and Cingular Wireless (a joint venture of AT&T (T) and BellSouth (BLS)) in the U.S. Meanwhile, South Korea's Samsung has started building HSDPA-ready phones.

PC CARDS

The technology promises wireless speeds as high as 3.6 Mbps but in practice will be much slower than that-fast enough, though, to make wirelessly surfing the Web and downloading music and video worth the effort.

That will make it ideal for wireless Internet access on a PC, and manufacturers have started to release PC cards for just that purpose. There are already scores on the market.

Market research firm iSuppli recently took apart one of those cards, the E620, manufactured by Chinese electronics giant Huawei and found that in addition to running fast, it doesn't cost all that much to make.

Vodaphone sells the E620 card in Britain for a price equivalent to about $272. The components inside the card cost about $73, while manufacturing costs amount to about $6 per unit, says iSuppli analyst Andrew Rassweiler.

CHIPS AHOY

And while Huawei is certainly making a decent profit given its costs, the big winner in the HSDPA business appears to be wireless chipmaker Qualcomm (QCOM).

Of the $73 in component costs inside the card, more than $40 worth of chips come from Qualcomm, Rassweiler says. 'We've been looking inside other cards and some handsets that are HSDPA-ready from LG Electronics and Samsung, and we're seeing the very same Qualcomm chips every time,' he says.

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