NEW YORK – China Mobile’s full-blown TD-LTE rollout may still be a few years away, but the race is already on among technology companies jockeying to get attention from the world’s largest mobile operator.
Partnership is the key here. Those deeply mired in the “not-invented-here” syndrome need not apply.
I say this because chip vendors developing LTE modems for AT&T or NTT Docomo, for example, aren’t likely to rule. Their modems need to be fully versed in China’s TD-SCDMA and TD-LTE.
Conversely, those who “own” the TD-SCDMA market today and who have also made progress in developing TD-LTE technologies aren’t necessarily guaranteed to plug into China Mobile’s upcoming handset sockets, either. China Mobile has set the bar high, requiring handset modems to be compatible with all the world’s wireless communications standards.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Qualcomm is well positioned in this upcoming battle. Spreadtrum Communications and Marvell Technology are also strong contenders.
Indeed, Spreadtrum recently announced that its single-chip multi-mode TD-LTE modem, the SC9610, will be shipping in a Hisense data card that was awarded a portion of China Mobile's recent 4G procurement tender. Hisense's data card is designed with Spreadtrum's 40-nm single-chip TD-LTE modem, based on CEVA’s DSP.
When combined with Spreadtrum’s SR3500 RF transceiver, the data card operates in TD-LTE, TD-SCDMA and GSM mode. The device supports UE category 3 as well as the ZUC encryption algorithm, a requirement for devices shipping in China, according to Spreadtrum.
Many analysts expect Spreadtrum to play a big role for TD-LTE at China Mobile in the coming years. Some even suggest that Spreadtrum “won’t let Qualcomm have it their own way.”
Well, not so fast.
Spreadtrum hasn’t yet launched a single-chip LTE modem supporting TD-LTE, SCD-LTE, TD-SCDMA, WCDMA and EDGE. We’ll wait ‘til 2013 to see how strong that chip is going to be.
Moreover, the development of a modem technology for one standard only means that it works in labs. Has it worked well in field trials? Is it ready for a stringent certification process?
As much as I am keen to find out who’s best positioned to get the coveted contract for China Mobile’s multi-frequency, multi-standard LTE modem, I’m more interested to know who in the West might prove smart and nimble enough to partner with Chinese companies for the best multi-standard LTE modem.
A company that caught my eye recently is Paris-based Sequans Communications. The French company, which had originally bet the farm on WiMax, has re-invented itself as a 4G chip company and is emerging as a credible contender for China’s TD-LTE market.