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Qualcomm translates USB for phones

The cell phone chipmaker has licensed mobile USB technology that will let handsets connect directly with cameras, printers, PDAs and any other device with a USB port.

Cell phone chipmaker Qualcomm announced Monday it is licensing technology that lets cell phones connect directly to printers, cameras and PCs or any other device with a universal serial bus port.

The San Diego-based company plans to incorporate so-called USB On-The-Go technology into the chips it sells to handset manufacturers, but didn't disclose any additional details about product plans.

Qualcomm licensed USB On-The-Go technology from Irvine, Calif.-based developer TransDimension. Terms of the deal were not released. The chips will be part of the newer generations of cell phones, which have vastly improved processing power in comparison with the older generations of wireless devices, Qualcomm indicated.

"Wireless handsets will (give) access to a multitude of existing...devices--including accessories such as printers, digital cameras, keyboards, audio players and CD-ROMs," Qualcomm said in a statement. A representative did not release additional details.

USB On-The-Go is a standard way for mobile devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants to link directly with--and swap data directly with--any other device that has a USB slot. Found inside TransDimension's chips, the standard was set up by the USB Implementers Forum, the group that created USB.

Most handhelds and other gadgets currently use standard USB, which means they have to be plugged into a PC in order for files to be downloaded from them. Only then are users able to move data to another device, uploading the files from the PC, which acts as a middleman between the two devices. USB On-The-Go cuts out the need for a PC.

The technology is part of what some call the "Swiss Army" trend in cell phones. As wireless carriers look for new ways to make money, handset makers are doing their part by giving cell phones more things to do by adding radios, MP3 players or cameras. For instance, Sprint PCS offers a Samsung N400 phone cell phone that attaches to a camera using a cable and that can then be used to send wireless postcards.

Wireless carriers are launching these "picture messaging" services or wireless Web surfing services to make up for revenue lost as the price of a cell phone call drops under the pressure of increased competition.

Cell phone makers have so far been slow to adopt USB On-The-Go. Qualcomm is the first major wireless handset maker or chip designer to license the technology for its products, a Qualcomm representative said.

Qualcomm's chips and the intellectual property it licenses to handset makers are designed for phones using the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standard. About 20 percent of the world's cell phones use CDMA and its various faster and better incarnations.

Nearly three quarters of the world's phones use a different standard, known as GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). David Murray, vice president of TransDimension, said Monday the company is close to licensing the same technology to several GSM handset makers. He declined to identify the handset makers.