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Qualcomm To Produce Satellite-Cellular Chips

The company signed a deal that may lead to handsets that can switch between cellular and satellite networks.

Qualcomm said it has signed a deal to build multimode mobile chipsets that marry satellite and cellular communication technologies.

The company said the agreement with SkyTerra Communications and ICO Global Communications could enable ubiquitous mobile communication coverage anywhere in North America. The companies said the chips are expected to be available in 2010.

"For the first time, satellite communications can achieve economies of scale traditionally enjoyed in the cellular marketplace today," said Alex Good, CEO and president of SkyTerra, in a statement. "Combined with our powerful next-generation satellites, Qualcomm's technology will enable mobile communications between terrestrial and satellite network layers using ordinary mobile devices."

Satellite phones have been critical in emergency situations like Hurricane Gustav and Ike, but costs and network handoff limitations have severely limited the availability of affordable handsets that can move between satellite and cellular networks.

Under the agreement, Qualcomm will develop a satellite protocol for these chipsets and combine it with the company's expertise with CDMA technology. The company's size and scale should enable a wider market to have access to satellite connectivity, and it should drive down costs for hardware manufacturers.

"The integrated satellite-terrestrial market presents an exciting opportunity with more than 100 MHz of spectrum potentially addressable on a global basis," said Good. "We anticipate that additional operators will take advantage of satellite data optimized technology as the systems evolve."

Additionally, Qualcomm said these new chips will support the L- and S-band frequencies. The move also potentially paves the way for cheaper, more accessible satellite broadband access.

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