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Qualcomm gets serious about RF with 40-band front end

Specialists like Skyworks may shiver as processor giant promises LTE worldphone platform


Published: 23 February, 2013

READ MORE: Qualcomm | RF (WAN) | LTE

One of the big challenges facing cost effective LTE roll-out is the fragmentation of the spectrum. There are seven band/mode (TDD/FDD) combinations being deployed on a mainstream basis, and many niche ones, all of which poses problems for creating low cost devices and for roaming. Qualcomm has taken a big step towards easing the problem with its latest radio chip, the RF360, which supports no fewer than 40 bands.

Qualcomm says its chip will enable handset makers to create true worldphones, which will save on the cost of developing different device variants for each region, and will therefore increase handset choice and roaming opportunities for carriers. The importance of the frequency issue was highlighted when Apple chose a somewhat quirky selection of bands for its iPhone 5 - for instance, European carriers with 1.8GHz LTE networks could run the 4G device, but not those with the equally common 2.6GHz/800MHz combination.

The RF360 supports LTE in TDD and FDD modes as well as all the 3G standards plus EDGE, and is enabled for upgrade to LTE-Advanced features, notably carrier aggregation. It works seamlessly with Qualcomm Snapdragon and Gobi hardware but could also be combined with third party mobile platforms. The company says it reduces chip footprint by up to 50% and also reduces power compared to current offerings.

"The wide range of radio frequencies used to implement 2G, 3G and 4G LTE networks globally presents an ongoing challenge for mobile device designers. Where 2G and 3G technologies each have been implemented on four to five different RF bands globally, the inclusion of LTE brings the total number of cellular bands to approximately 40," said Alex Katouzian, SVP of product management at Qualcomm Technologies.

Handsets featuring the Qualcomm RF360 chip should hit shelves during the second half of this year.

Qualcomm has not been nearly as prominent in RF front ends as in processors and basebands, but is now signalling its intent to provide a complete solution for handsets and take on the radio specialists. Share in some of these, such as Skyworks, RFMD and Avago, fell on the news, as those firms face the prospect of a full-blown attack on their territory by Qualcomm, leveraging its 50% share in mobile processor/basebands.

However, there is still room for innovation in addressing LTE's many frequencies - recently UK start-up Nujira demonstrated how envelope tracking can reduce power in RF front ends covering many bands, while interesting approaches come from some transceiver specialists like Lime Microsystems.

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