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Qualcomm's Firmware Updates Go Mobile

SAN FRANCISCO -- Wasting time upgrading phone software is one problem Qualcomm just won't put up with anymore.

The San Diego-based firm launched a new program for its BREW-enabled devices that lets users update their firmware over wireless networks rather than making an in-store visit or adhering to massive device recalls from the company.

So now instead of sending a fleet's phones in for upgrades, Qualcomm said the new service can automatically repair software flaws or add new functions over wireless networks. The firmware over-the-air (FOTA) update is part of the company's latest BREW Distribution System (BDS) release (BDS 2004).

Gina Lombardi, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Qualcomm Internet Services, said that the service would soon be available for both GSM and CDMA networks.

The company demonstrated the new service with the help of its partners Bitfone and Insignia Solutions on a Curitel CDM-8940 handset during the CTIA Wireless conference here.

"The ability to make over-the-air updates to our devices not only reduces the need for software-related device recalls, but also allows us to quickly and easily deploy product upgrades and accelerate the adoption of wireless services," said Dan Kim, vice president of product planning at Pantech & Curitel. "Because these new FOTA capabilities are easy to implement using the BREW solution, we're able to almost instantly raise our level of support beyond that of the competition."

Qualcomm's moves come at a time when the wireless industry is experiencing a Renaissance of sorts. The CTIA Wireless Association issued a report Monday saying wireless subscribers grew by an estimated 14.5 percent between June 2003 and June 2004. The report also pointed to the nearly 27,000 cell sites that have been constructed in the previous year -- an increase of 18 percent. Today the CTIA said there are more than 174,000 cell sites across the nation.

CTIA CEO Steve Largent also reiterated research firm IDC's report that 46 percent of corporations interviewed plan to install wireless networks in the next 12 months. Some 68 percent of those are small-to-medium sized businesses.

Well known in the shipping and manufacturing sectors, Qualcomm's preparations include licensing the Microsoft Windows Media Player codec to make it easier to play audio and video on its handsets.

Earlier this month, Qualcomm said it would pay $170 million for Iridigm Display, which makes screen display technology for wireless devices, cameras, MP3 players, camcorders, GPS receivers and game consoles. Qualcomm is also in negotiations with Spike Technologies to the tune of $19 million.