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AllJoyn(TM) Enables Direct Connections Among Several Devices

(PresseBox) (Neuss, ) Qualcomm spends a lot of money on R&D, usually to improve their products; but in this case to engender new utility for cellphones, tablets and even PCs...even those that don't employ Qualcomm chips. AllJoyn ("all join") is a platform-neutral method of enabling ad hoc peer-to-peer connections between two nearby devices...or among several devices without the need for an intermediary server or even cellular connection. For example, Bluetooth® or Wi-Fi connections between devices would be sufficient for, say, multi-player gaming or project collaboration between colleagues and students in enterprise educational settings. But the technology could be employed for proximity-based services like distributing coupons or vcards. With AllJoyn, one could also Interact and share content with laptops and desktop computers in the area.

The types of applications that will use AllJoyn are limited only by the imagination of developers. Extending social networking is one example. A user could define a profile with likes and interests. Upon entering a location, the AllJoyn-enabled handset would immediately discover other nearby peers with similar interests, create a communication network between the peer devices, allow them to communicate, and exchange information. AllJoyn was developed in parallel on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Android.

Realizing that building an extensive ecosystem requires almost universal access to the technology, Qualcomm has moved AllJoyn to an open-source project and details and free downloads are available at http://www.alljoyn.org.

InterDigital on the Block

For those who have seen The Wizard of Oz, you remember "The Man behind the Curtain." Well, you should consider the case of InterDigital Inc. The company has long been "behind the curtain," since they have virtually no physical products to peddle. However, InterDigital develops fundamental wireless technologies that are at the core of mobile devices, networks, and services worldwide, and licenses its intellectual property (IP) for use in the iPhone, Android handsets, RIM's BlackBerry and more.

Apple (already an InterDigital licensee) and Google (with a weak IP portfolio) are vying to obtain exclusive rights to InterDigital's inventions. All of this was brought on by Google losing a June bidding contest for bankrupt Nortel Networks' patents. Those 6,000+ Nortel patents went to a group that includes Microsoft, Apple, Ericsson, EMC, Sony and RIM for $4.5 billion. It's been reported that Google recently purchased about 1,000 patents from IBM that don't appear to be directly related to wireless, but Google is clearly beefing up its IP portfolio. Considering that Apple has found leverage in suing HTC and Samsung, possibly blocking U.S. imports of their handsets (and Qualcomm chips?), it sees strength in having an even bigger IP portfolio. Unlike the paper patents from Nortel, InterDigital has experienced engineers and scientists, continuing R&D in future wireless technologies and sitting on key standards boards. The street is expecting InterDigital, as an operational company, and its 8,000+ patents to go for some $5 billion.

As a long-standing contributor to the evolution of the wireless industry, InterDigital is probably the #2 holder of CDMA IP after Qualcomm. Although you'll probably never see it confirmed or denied because of secrecy clauses, I believe that for every dollar in CDMA royalty that Qualcomm collects, a portion of it goes to InterDigital. Moreover, owning InterDigital's IP would be very strong leverage in negotiating future royalty payments to Qualcomm, Nokia and others, for not only CDMA licensing but LTE and other technologies, too.

Motorola Patents also on the Block?

Its biggest shareholder, Carl Icahn, has urged Motorola Mobility to consider splitting off its patent portfolio to cash in on the surging interest in wireless technology from companies like Google and Apple. Ican estimates a $4 billion valuation for the patent portfolio, and a sale at that level that would make him even richer than he already is. However, as a wireless pioneer Motorola already collects royalties on much of its IP and such a sale would leave Motorola as a hardware-only company which would then have to license the IP they will still need, but would no longer own. So, this proposed move is not as straightforward as it first appears.

BTW: As a young electrical engineer, I was under the delusion that if one received a patent on his invention, his company would be quick to further exploit the technology and reward the inventor accordingly. My next-door neighbor at the time was a young patent lawyer for a Fortune 100 company and he poured water on my thinking when he explained that companies simply collected patents like playing cards...as protection from lawsuits or as leverage in suing other companies.

NFC to Finally Kick In This Year?

Early GPS-capable CDMA phones employing Qualcomm's basebands were shipped in the millions, but few handsets had software (or displays) to actually provide their owners with maps or directions, but they were useful for E911 emergency location services. Cellphones with the software and displays providing the GPS utility we know today didn't arrive for most of those CDMA phones for several years. In a similar manner, some 40 million handsets will ship this year that have hardware for Near Field Communications (NFC); but most of those cellphones (at least in the U.S.) are waiting for software to actually enable them for use in mobile wallet, subway fares and other close-proximity transactions. In some ways, it's the chicken & egg problem with point of sales (POS) infrastructure waiting for customers with enabled smartphones and those smartphones are waiting for software launches in the POS terminals.

As the dominant mobile handset purchasers in the world, mobile operators stand as the gatekeepers of NFC's entry into new handsets. So until they are comfortable with getting a return on their investment in those handsets, NFC will not reach a mass market. Actually, Korea is currently the number-one user of NFC (as opposed to Japan's early FeliCa, a similar technology). The operators want control of financial transactions by embedding the security information in their SIM cards (CDMA phones will have to wait for those), while credit card companies want control with security buried in MicroSD or similar cards that they control. I understand that the Nokia C7 is now activated in the U.S.

NFC operates at 13.56 MHz, a much lower frequency than other cellphone-associated RF communications. That presents a challenge for NFC antennas which have to be electrically "longer" than the others, and typically consists of one or more loops around the periphery of the battery or cellphone case and sometimes employing ferrite materials, but there are other schemes being trialed, as well. Together, the antenna and silicon add about $5.00 to the BOM for a cellphone.

NXP, the co-inventor of NFC is the clear market leader in NFC silicon (as well as smart card and other I.D. silicon). NXP is now joined by specialist InsideSecure and a growing list of companies, most of which will be announcing products in the second half of this year and early next. Late next year, look for the "combo" peripheral chip houses to add NFC on the same die (or at least the same package) as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and FM.

EEMBC Launches Mobile Browser Benchmark

Well-known for its real-world processor benchmarks, the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium (EEMBC) today launched its standardized, industry-accepted method of evaluating portable connected devices, with a primary focus on mobile Web-browser performance. Unlike other browser benchmarks, BrowsingBench measures the complete user-experience--from the click/touch on a URL to final-page rendered on the screen. Furthermore, BrowsingBench measures more than JavaScript execution, it also measures page-rendering speed and factors in Internet-content diversity. BrowsingBench is available now for EEMBC members and for non-member licensing. Details are at www.eembc.org .

Shameless Plug

Because several companies expressed interest in a more focused report covering only on the core chips that enable a cellphone, Forward Concepts as published a subset of its "Cellular Handset & Chip Market '11" report (which is still available www.fwdconcepts.com/Cellchip11 ). The new focused report, "Cellphone Core Chip Trends" provides an in-depth market analysis of baseband, application processor, RF and power management chips. The study estimates 2010 market shares of chip vendors by air interface (as applicable) and forecasts each chip type in units, average selling price and revenue through 2015. The 281-page report is provided only in PDF format and is available for $3,850.00. Details are at: www.fwdconcepts.com/cellcore.