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Qualcomm adds 4G to laptop modems

Communications chipmaker will add LTE connection technology to its Gobi modems, which allow for switching between different providers.

Qualcomm is adding 4G technology to its Gobi laptop modems and expanding its chip offerings that support 3G technologies.

Just-released HP EliteBook 2540p ultraportable laptop offers Gobi 3G modem.  4G in the future?
The just-released HP EliteBook 2540p ultraportable laptop offers a Gobi 3G modem. 4G in the future? Hewlett-Packard

The San Diego-based company announced at CTIA in Las Vegas Tuesday that it will add, for the first time, LTE, or Long Term Evolution 4G technology to the roster of 3G technologies that the Gobi modem supports. 4G technology is expected to offer much greater data throughput than current 3G technologies (see chart below).

Gobi modem technology is significant because it supports more than one type of 3G service. In effect, Gobi allows switching to a different 3G provider in software. The integrated Gobi modem on HP EliteBook business laptops, for example, supports Verizon's EV-DO and AT&T's HSPA 3G services. Before, a user would have to replace the internal modem to switch providers.

And Gobi modems will now be future-proofed by supporting LTE, too. Michael Concannon, senior vice president of connectivity and wireless modules at Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, explained how this could play out for PC makers. "A PC supplier, for example, may go with a 3.6 megabit-per-second module on a very low-end laptop, while in the mid-range they may want to go with a 14.4 (Mbps), and at the very high end they may want to go with LTE," said Concannon.

Concannon added that PC suppliers will now have a common application programming interface, or API, to use across modems, allowing users to see a common connection management interface.

Chipsets now available that support the Gobi API include:

  • MDM6600: HSPA+ data rates of up to 14.4 Mbps and CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev. A/Rev. B.
  • MDM8220: dual-carrier HSPA+ for data rates of up to 42 Mbps.
  • MDM9200: LTE data rates of up to 100 Mbps, backward compatibility to dual-carrier HSPA+
  • MDM9600: LTE data rates of up to 100 Mbps, backward compatibility to dual-carrier HSPA+ and EV-DO Rev. A/Rev. B

Most major PC makers have signed on to Gobi, according to Concannon. "We have now surpassed the point where we have a hundred laptop models across all of the vendors (that use Gobi)," he said, adding that Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Panasonic, and Sony all offer Gobi 3G modems.

And when will a PC user be able to log onto a 4G LTE network? "I can only go by what the carriers tell us. The carriers are driving to get devices out by the fourth quarter of this year," according to Concannon. "But like any network it will take time to get a footprint countrywide. The big metropolises will come first."