Qualcomm & Atheros: The Marriage of 4G and Wi-Fi

Qualcomm buying Atheros is the start of something big in wireless networking.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The biggest technology news this week didn't come from CES in Las Vegas. No, the biggest news story was that Qualcomm, a major mobile phone radio silicon player, is buying Atheros, one of the leading lights of Wi-Fi silicon. Put them together and what do you get? I'll tell you what you get; you eventually get PCs, notebooks, tablets, smartphones, whatever, that can cheaply connect with both 4G and Wi-Fi networks.

Universal connectivity is one of the big CES themes. As NPR's Laura Sydell said she'd seen "more Internet-connected devices than I've ever seen [before] at CES and some of them are talking to one another." Of course, people at CES are also seeing how all this connectivity can fail, and I mean really fail as Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang will be "happy" to tell you all about that.

Besides there just not being enough bandwidth to go around at CES, one of the things they're not telling you at CES is how hard it is to put all that 3G, 4G and wireless technology into a single device. That's why I thought the news that Sierra Wireless bringing ready to go 4G for device OEMs was noteworthy news. This isn't easy to do.

Now, Qualcomm will be able to add Atheros' Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and powerline technologies to its 3G and 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) smartphone and tablet chipsets. Wouldn't you like to have a smartphone, tablet, or PC that could connect to your office's 802.11n network, your phone carrier's 4G network, and your Bluetooth headset? If you were an OEM, wouldn't you like to be able to easily and cheaply buy a chipset that would let you do it all in one package?

Looking ahead, wouldn't you like to be able to do this with the new Gigabit Wi-Fi standards coming down the road like 802.11ac, 802.11ad, and Wireless Gigabit aka WiGig? Sounds great doesn't it?

If Qualcomm and Atheros can successfully harness their technological forces together, a future where all our devices can talk to each on whatever network works best for a given situation will be a lot closer than you might believe.

While I'm excited about the network connectivity promises of this deal, Qualcomm may be hoping for even more. While other ARM-processor based businesses, such as Nvidia with its Tegra 2 is making headlines, don't forget that Qualcomm has a noteworthy ARM-based CPU family of its own, the Snapdragon. Now, think about the possibilities of universal wireless connectivity with a high-powered, dual-core processor. Interesting isn't it? I'm sure that exactly what Qualcomm's executives were thinking too when they made this deal.

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