Mobile

Qualcomm handed $125 million for wireless shopping spree

The Federal Communications Commission has given the digital wireless company a $125 million voucher, which it can use to buy rights to the wireless airwaves in upcoming auctions.

Digital wireless company Qualcomm said today the Federal Communications Commission has given it a $125 million voucher, which it can use to buy rights to the wireless airwaves in upcoming auctions.

The award caps a seven-year legal battle in which Qualcomm tried to get tangible recognition for its creation of the CDMA (code division multiple access) mobile telephone standard. CDMA is the fastest growing wireless technology in the world.

The FCC awards wireless spectrum licenses to companies it deems "pioneers," but had passed over Qualcomm.

Last July, a federal court ordered the FCC to give Qualcomm the "pioneer" designation, leading to today's award.

The voucher will allow Qualcomm to go on a kind of wireless shopping spree in any of several spectrum auctions set for the next three years. The FCC is in the process of offering licenses to huge slices of the airwaves to whichever mobile phone company or other service provider bids highest.

But even $125 million won't buy much. Much of the most valuable spectrum in past auctions has gone for up to several billion dollars.

Qualcomm has joined coalitions of firms elsewhere in the world, including in Chile, Mexico and Brazil, to buy wireless spectrum. It hasn't yet pursued this strategy in the United States, but today's voucher could lead it in that direction.

"That is possible," said Dick Grannis, a Qualcomm spokesman. "We never rule out any opportunity. But our main intention is to use the voucher to help promote CDMA technology."

Qualcomm's shares closed up about 2 percent on today's news.