Qualcomm buys mobile banking company

Qualcomm agreed to buy mobile banking vendor Firethorn for US$210 million.

Qualcomm has agreed to buy mobile banking company Firethorn Holdings for about US$210 million in the latest move into software and services by a mobile hardware vendor.

The agreement announced this week came just a day after AT&T launched a national mobile banking service with Wachovia and SunTrust Banks that is based on Firethorn technology. It is subject to conditions and is expected to close within 30 days, according to a Qualcomm news release.

Mobile technology companies such as Qualcomm and Nokia, known for providing fundamental hardware and software platforms for networks and devices, are now getting more involved in the applications and services that run on top. Nokia last month bought mapping service Navteq for US$8.1 billion and introduced a set of mobile gaming, music, mapping and social-networking services under a portal called Ovi.

Firethorn's employees will remain in the company's home city of Atlanta under the leadership of its CEO, Tripp Rackley. The group will be overseen by Len Lauer, Qualcomm's executive vice president and group president. By buying Firethorn, Qualcomm hopes to speed up adoption of mobile banking and drive development of mobile payment and marketing services.

The service Firethorn rolled out this week with AT&T uses an application that resides on the phone rather than relying on a mobile Web site as some other banking services have done. Customers can immediately have the service turned off remotely if their phones are lost or stolen. This approach could make mobile banking easier to find and use as well as more secure.

Qualcomm, a major supplier of cellular chips, pioneered the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) cellular technology and developed the Brew mobile software platform. It is now rolling out a mobile TV broadcasting network through its MediaFlo division.

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