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Qualcomm builds NFC into mobile chipsets

The manufacturer is to support the contactless, short-range wireless technology, but analysts warn that near-field communications may struggle to take off soon
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Qualcomm has announced it is now building near-field communications technology, a type of RFID, into some of its chipsets.

The manufacturer, which mainly makes chipsets for mobile phones, revealed its support for the contactless, short-range wireless technology on Wednesday. Near-field communications (NFC) is already used in travelcards such as London's Oyster smartcard, as well as in some bank debit cards, but the mobile industry is keen to see it integrated into handsets.

"NFC technology holds great potential for changing the way mobile devices are used," said Mike Concannon, Qualcomm's senior vice president of product management for CDMA Technologies, in Wednesday's statement. "We are now engaged with leaders in NFC technology to offer reference designs that have this next-generation functionality."

Qualcomm is working with the open-standards NFC company Inside Contactless, in which it has a substantial investment, to create these reference designs.

In November, the GSM Association (GSMA), the main mobile-industry trade body, said it wanted manufacturers to start building NFC into handsets from the middle of this year. The GSMA said a concerted push would create economies of scale, making it cheaper for the technology to spread.

However, telecoms analyst Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis told ZDNet UK that he doubted NFC would take off in the short to medium term.

"There is an interest around travel ticketing, but you'll probably see that adopted in a patchy fashion," Bubley said. "I haven't seen any compelling use-cases or business models yet — many, such as 'digital wallets', are solutions looking for problems. I don't see people in London walking around with Oyster cards sticky-taped to the bottom of their mobile phones."

Bubley pointed out that Qualcomm was a major chipset provider to the mobile industry, and said the manufacturer "tends to put pretty much anything in there" that might have some uptake. "Some operators and handset vendors will specify it," he said.

Also on Wednesday, Qualcomm announced the second version of its Gobi module, which is aimed at providing mobile-broadband connectivity — mainly for notebooks — across the various global cellular data standards, such as EV-DO, which is used in North America and parts of Australasia, and HSPA, used in the rest of the world.

Gobi2000, as the new module is called, adds support for the 900MHz band, which is used in some rural areas of Europe. It also provides faster HSUPA uplinks of up to 5.76Mbps, and the GPS functionality of the module now supports Assisted-GPS, which adds cellular information to the GPS signal to locate the user more quickly.

The new module now also supports the upcoming Windows 7, Qualcomm said, adding that it expected Gobi2000-enabled laptops to appear on the market in the second half of this year.

"Qualcomm's first-generation Gobi module has been broadly accepted as seven of the world's 10 largest notebook [manufacturers] have adopted Gobi, and we are now expanding our Gobi roadmap with a second-generation product that delivers enhanced functionality in response to industry demands," Concannon said.

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