The cell-phone tech giant buys early MIMO company: Airgo was a pioneer in commercializing multiple-antenna (multiple-in/multiple-out or MIMO) technology for the mass market. While one might quibble with some of the particulars of their marketing or their confidence in their precise technology decisions, there's no question that they were the first to market with Wi-Fi plus MIMO, that they helped set the direction of the industry towards MIMO, and that they continue to be a significant player--although that significance was in danger of being challenged by the success of MIMO as a component in wireless data networking.
Their acquisition by Qualcomm ensures their future relevance. Qualcomm says they'll continue to support Airgo's lines of business, but will also integrate their Wi-Fi technology into the Mobile Station Modem chipsets and Snapdragon platform, both of which are designed to give Qualcomm a full place at the converged "table," in which cellular data is one of multiple options for connectivity.
MIMO makes it possible to carry more data over the same frequencies through reuse of those frequencies across space (spatial multiplexing), while also increasing receive sensitivity and transmission clarity, resulting in greater effective area covered by a transceiver.
A related announcement made my head spin. Airgo is claiming the availability of 802.11n Draft 2.0 chipsets that are fully backward compatibility with Draft 1.0 features, and 802.11a/b/g. Now this is hard to swallow given that Draft 2.0 won't be actually voted on until March 2007. In fact, the latest notes from the November meeting of Task Group N--the group responsible for the drafts--explains that 370 technical comments are left to address (88 percent have been gone through) with expected approval on the resolution of those comments by the January meeting. Only by that happening would a ballot be created that could then be approved for the March 2007.
So I have to ask--what kind of crack is Airgo/Qualcomm smoking, and how do I get me some? I'd love to be able to exist simultaneously four months in the future and today; it would make investing much easier. This announcement from a company that denounced Draft 1.0 chip releases is especially rich.
I expect we will get all kinds of qualifications from Qualcomm, and all kinds of denunciations from competing chipmakers. What they will certainly claim is something like, "Based on our expectations of how the final 370 comments will be addressed, we currently comply with the state of Draft 2.0 in progress." That is, they will claim compliance with a DRAFT OF A DRAFT and state that with a straight face. This is why I am not in marketing.
Update on 2.0: In email with an Airgo spokesperson, the company stated that the chips will include all possible iterations of ideas still under discussion and incorporate everything that could possibly be in 2.0. This is probably true. But there's a great difference between "we anticipate Draft 2.0" and "we're Draft 2.0 compliant," which is logically and linguistically impossible. Airgo's CEO--newly minted VP of wireless connectivity at Qualcomm--Greg Raleigh told Wi-Fi Planet: " 'We've had a year of debate and negotiation in the IEEE,' says Raleigh. In that time, lots of features have been introduced as possibilities for 802.11n and Airgo plans to support just about everything that’s come up. In fact, he says Airgo argued to include most of them while some other vendors argued to have features taken out."
It's still specious to call their new chips Draft 2.0 compliant.
Another update: TechWorld talked to someone at Qualcomm who said that "availability" doesn't mean that chips are available. "With no possibility of a Draft 2.0 design until after then, Qualcomm vice president Enrico Salvatori admitted to us that the Draft 2.0 silicon was not actually "available" was planned for sample quantities in the second half of 2007."
Airgo, by the way, has a pile of patents, and while I haven't heard boo so far about them attempting to enforce these in any fashion--and as a participant in IEEE, they've had to agree to certain licensing terms--I expect Qualcomm to follow its usual aggressive strategy. Which means bloody noses, lawsuits, and so on. Qualcomm is in the midst of being sued by and suing a variety of competitors, involving patents that parties claim other parties have used without permission and the cost of patent royalties.
Qualcomm announced another purchase today, too. The deal is described as Qualcomm acquiring the "majority of RF Micro Devices' Bluetooth assets," which is a little difficult to parse, but ostensibly means patents, processes, licenses, and inventories.