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Qualcomm's Gobi modem improves speed, connectivity

If you use a phone, laptop, computer, tablet or any connected device, the chances are high you’re benefiting from a San Diego technology without realizing it. Qualcomm’s Gobi modem, which has been embedded in devices for years and is now in its fourth iteration, is to thank for faster, more reliable Internet access.

The most recent 4G LTE version, called Gobi 9x35, raised eyebrows by achieving 300 megabit per second data speeds and coverage on Category 6 LTE, all while saving battery power. This fourth-generation chip works not only with this current generation of service, but also has backward compatible support through 2G, working with all seven varieties of cellular technology.

“Consistent with the theme of always driving higher data rates and better performance, this generation model has higher data rates in the form of 300 megabits per second,” said Peter Carson, senior director of marketing for Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM). “Users can realize this when the network capability is there with Category 6 LTE, the device can enable this up to 300 Mbps speed — twice as fast as data rates in the previous chip.

“And the interesting thing is we were able to do that with lower power consumption in terms of energy per bit per device, so it offers a substantial reduction leading to longer battery life as result of the improvement.”

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 and 808 processors, officially unveiled Monday, use a Gobi modem based on the 9x35, but with yet another significant improvement: the ability to tune across a wider set of frequencies simultaneously.

Whereas previous versions of the modem, and every other modem in the marketplace, have only been able to use two frequencies at once to expand the boundaries of operations that can support the maximum data rate, the Gobi chips in these latest processors can use three bands simultaneously to provide the 40 hertz needed to get that 300 Mbps speed.

How has Qualcomm Technologies, the group within Qualcomm churning out these industry-leading advancements, been able to break these barriers? Part of it has to do with the use of silicon, which allows for smaller chip sizes, while still saving power.

Carson said the previous technology’s node was 28 nanometers, while this version is 20 nanometers, with the smaller geometry leading to less power needed to transmit the data.

Carson also said Qualcomm’s RF360 single multimode design also made this possible by reducing heat waste that drains the battery.

“Normally, before RF360 was introduced, what was done is we’d have to oversupply — send more voltage to the power amplifier than was needed, because if you undersupply you clip the signal and get distortion of the signal and quality is lost,” Carson said.

“But now we have a way of finally knowing exactly how much voltage is needed, and only supplying that much, not oversupplying.”

While improving the Gobi product line, Carson said Qualcomm Technologies also has other projects planned, including LTE Broadcast.

“LTE Broadcast allows for broadcasting common content over cellular networks, and is not employed commercially anywhere but Korea right now,” he said.

The product creates an enormous leap in efficiency by allowing live content to be streamed from one pipe and used by a virtually limitless number of users, as opposed to having individual pipes for each user in a wireless network who wants access to that content. Carson said Qualcomm has participated in about eight product trials with operators, including Verizon, around the world.

Another area of growth is smart cars. Gobi has been used in this telematics space for 10 years for features such as voice connectivity for emergency calls. Carson said the company is working to use Gobi and Qualcomm’s Atheros Wi-Fi to bring broadband to cars.

And it doesn’t sound like this is all they’ve got cooking in the labs.

“Stay tuned — we have a lot of exciting things coming down the pipeline,” Carson said.

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