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Mobile

Qualcomm's globe-trotting phone chip

The company ships a chip that lets a mobile phone use almost any of the world's wireless networks, regardless of the standard it's based on. Verizon may be a customer.

Qualcomm has begun shipping a chip that enables a mobile phone to use almost any of the world's wireless networks, regardless of the communications standard it's based on.

The new MSM6300 chip, sent to manufacturers earlier this month, essentially allows for two phones in one, a Qualcomm representative said Tuesday.


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The chip contains enough silicon to create phones capable of using networks built around the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) standard, as well as those based on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard.

The two incompatible phone standards now power about 90 percent of the world's wireless networks. Most cell phones today are either CDMA or GSM, so a traveler who wants to do some wireless globe-trotting usually needs two different phones, phone plans and phone numbers.

The MSM6300 chip was made with those--mostly business--customers in mind, said Qualcomm representative Stacy Getz, including people shuttling regularly between the United States, where CDMA is the dominant standard, and Europe, where GSM is behind nearly every telephone network.

The new chip is among the biggest pushes yet by phone makers to create a single phone that can work anywhere. Most carriers are still taking half steps toward this goal, which is supposed to be a chief draw for luring corporate clients. Nextel Communications, for instance, still forces corporate clientele to buy two different phones to travel worldwide, however, the phones can now share the same number.

Qualcomm began shipping samples of the chip earlier this month to a number of cell phone makers, Getz said. She did not disclose what manufacturers have received the chips.

According to a source, Verizon Wireless plans to sell phones based on the MSM6300 chips once manufacturers have them ready. It's likely the phones could start appearing in the United States and elsewhere by the first half of 2003, the source said.

Getz did not comment on Verizon's plans, but said the nation's No. 1 carrier would be a good fit. Verizon uses CDMA in its telephone network in the United States, but the company is owned by Vodafone, one of the biggest GSM providers on the planet. Vodafone is reportedly pressuring Verizon Wireless to switch to GSM.

Verizon Wireless representative Brenda Raney wouldn't confirm the source's assertions, but indicated that plans to sell the "world phones" could be in the future. "We put pressure on our vendors to go to a one-handset solution for global roaming," Raney said.

Sprint PCS, KDDI in Japan and Bell Mobility in Canada are also said to be interested in selling phones using the MSM6300 chips, a source said. A Sprint PCS representative did not immediately return a call for comment. KDDI and Bell Mobility representatives could not be reached for comment.