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Zippy wireless tech draws new converts

Samsung and Novatel Wireless separately jump aboard the bandwagon for w-CDMA, with intentions to use Qualcomm w-CDMA chips for phones and modems.

Samsung and Novatel Wireless are the latest converts to wideband-CDMA, a standard expected to dominate the cellular world by mid-decade.

Both companies announced separate deals this week to license wideband-CDMA (w-CDMA) chip designs from Qualcomm. Handset maker Samsung is working on a phone that it expects will be available by mid-2003. Wireless modem manufacturer Novatel Wireless, together with Lucent Technologies, is developing a wireless modem for laptop computers and PDAs (personal digital assistants). It is expected in late 2003 or early 2004.

W-CDMA triples the calling capacity of any cell phone network and creates a wireless Web with download speeds of up to 364Kbps. It's expected to dominate the world's cellular stage because any carrier, regardless of what kind of network they have, can upgrade to w-CDMA without building a new network. The same isn't true for any rival cellular standard, such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).

Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo has the world's only working w-CDMA network, but most other carriers are expected to finish upgrading to w-CDMA by 2005. U.S. carriers planning to upgrade to w-CDMA, which is also known as UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), include AT&T Wireless, according to company representative Mark Siegel. "UMTS is our future," he said Thursday.

Nokia was among the first telephone makers to announce intentions to make w-CDMA phones and the networking equipment cellular carriers would need to convert. Nokia-created chips will be inside any products the Finnish cell phone maker develops, said Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak.

"We'd be more worried if people weren't doing it," Nowak said in response to rival Samsung's intentions to enter the w-CDMA market.

Motorola has also been developing phones and network gear using the w-CDMA standard. And Lucent Technologies is developing w-CDMA equipment in addition to the products its working on with Novatel.

A Qualcomm representative did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.