It’s a long, arduous process destined to tie up a lot of resources at any company.
In talking with other industry insiders in Las Vegas last week, some speculated that ST-Ericsson or Renesas Mobile may have little choice
but to be acquired by someone like Samsung Their time
and resources are limited, thus making it
tough for these companies to weather the never-ending process before they see
production of handsets containing their chip design.
I should probably curb my pessimism. Will Strauss, president of Forward
Concepts, believes that a bunch of LTE modem design wins might be
announced next month during the Mobile World Congress.
In fact, there was no shortage of new LTE chip news during CES. Qualcomm
announced its Snapdragon 8000, featuring quad-core Krait 400 CPU (which
speeds up to 2.3 GHz per core), Adreno 330 GPU and 4G LTE Cat 4 and
802.11ac that offers connectivity with cellular modem boasting data
rates up to 150 Mbps and 802.11ac at speeds up to 1 Gbps.
unveiled at CES its NovaThor L8580 modem/apps processor based on a 28-nm
FD-SOI process. The company said the multimode Cat 4 LTE chip supports
up to ten LTE/HSPA/TD-SCDMA/GSM bands.
announced its new apps processor, the Tegra 4 SoC, and a separate Icera i500
modem chip that connects to Tegra 4. Icera i500, slated for roll out in
the second half of this year, is a software-based modem that is “highly
adaptive,” Nvidia’s senior vice president, Phillip Carmack, told EE
Times. Its algorithms, for example, are flexible, adapting to very
different types of networks, ranging from the Great Plains -- where the
nearest cellular tower is miles away -- to a very congested network like
CES, he explained. “The soft modem optimizes itself and seeks the best
When Nvidia acquired it, Icera entered
the modem market late compared to competitors, Carmack said. “We’re
lucky that we didn’t have to deal with legacy modems.” Every time a new
modem standard emerges, most of Nvidia’s competitors kept bolting them
on top of existing modems, since “nobody wants to mess with the modems
that already work.”
Strauss reported that Renesas Mobile is
rolling out MP6530 multimode FDD/TDD Class 4 LTE/DC-HSPA+/EDGE/GPRS/GSM
modem with a quad-core apps processor employing ARM's dual
Cortex-A15 and dual Cortex-A7 MPCores. Renesas Mobile’s new chip set is
“said to have ultra-low power consumption, and is fully certified, but
customer announcements will probably not be made before [Mobile World Congress] next month,”
according to Strauss.
Meanwhile, Marvell's PXA1801 2-chip Cat4
multimode LTE modem/App Processor that features its own RF and PMIC is
sampling and in certification, according to Strauss. “It will be in new
RIM Smartphones,” he predicted.
This RF wireless modem business seems so difficult to me. The designs are becoming more and more extraordinarily difficult and clever, and then in the end, only a few survive and quickly become commodity items. It almost hurts to see so much effort expended, when you know that a lot of that work might never see the light of day.
This is because the complexity of the designs is increasing so much that soon companies won't be able to keep up with the pace of new standards. Just like it doesn't make sense to develop and maintain your own CPU, you use an ARM. It will soon be the same in the baseband business, you will let a company make the effort of designing and maintaining a scalable, software programmable IP, and just buy a license that fits your needs, in terms of processing power, size, etc. It doesn't mean that you lose a part of your business, it means you focus on what makes the difference for your product. This is just what this company does: www.simpulse-dsp.com
Reading the article, I had a feeling of deja-vu. If I'm correct in the early times of computing, there were different makers for CPU (Intel, Zylog, Motorola are the first names coming to my mind). After a few years, expect for specific servers, only Intel and AMD remains (the last blow was when Apple started using Intel in its Mac series...)
Do you think the mobile business is evolving the same way and that in five years or so only two will remain...?
Its true that Samsung makes its own LTE baseband chips but it hasnt been commercialised like one would think. The last time it was in a phone was the CDMA variant of Galaxy Nexus and I havent heard of it since. To me it sounds like its just not ready for prime time. All other SSG LTE phones have a Qualcomm chip.
Europe is aggressively rolling out LTE and it will severly hurt the aforementioned 3G volume suppliers who are far from launching LTE chips
The word on the street is that Samsung is indeed working on the LTE baseband chips for the merchant market. That, probably, is different from the one they are using in their own handsets. We just don't know when that will reach the market.
I disagree with the 'No takeoff'. One of the four companies mentioned in the first paragraph already has a LTE chip in the market, so thats a major leap and proves maturity. Lets see how the rest catch up.
When I think about 400, its not a huge number, there is tremendous effort involved with validation. The field testing involves travelling across the target market identifying operational issues, fixing them, retesting.
Tweaking the stack for performance even if it means non-conformance to 3GPP is also not very uncommon.
Imagine the number of engineers required for traveling across Europe for testing, reporting, identifying the root cause, fixing and retesting?
As far as I know, The last time it was in a phone was the CDMA variant of Galaxy Nexus and I havent heard of it since. To me it sounds like its just not ready for prime time. All other SSG LTE phones have a Qualcomm chip. One of my friend working at http://movingangels.com has got this phone.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.