LONDON The mobile broadband chip sector is likely to see a swathe of consolidation as the business matures, according to a study by Light Reading's Components Insider research unit.
The study suggests consolidation in the 4G chip sector is inevitable, with some 20 vendors now vying for position.
Light Reading is part of United Business Media, which also publishes EE Times .
"The WiMax semiconductor market is already very competitive, with multiple vendors developing both baseband and RF devices," notes Simon Stanley, research analyst for Components Insider and author of the study.
He ads that as the 3GPP's Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology develops and the rollout of WiMax continues, there will be demand for semiconductor devices to support additional frequency bands and a complex mix of frequency, bandwidth, and performance.
Although the IEEE802.16 and WiMAX Forum have approached wireless broadband data from an angle different from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)'s , much of the technology used for 3GPP's LTE is similar to that chosen for mobile WiMax.
Common technologies include the downstream transmission scheme (OFDM) and the use of multiple antenna (MIMO). By making WiMax baseband and radio frequency (RF) components more flexible and functional, vendors have been able to develop technology demonstrations for LTE and are developing devices that can be easily configured for either WiMax or LTE.
Stanley suggests vendors embracing both 4G options will reap the benefits, while those that are not competitive in these developments will be swept away. "As the WiMax rollout continues and LTE deployment starts, the rewards for the successful system and silicon vendors will be significant," he continues. "There will also be major consolidation, as those that have failed to respond to these challenges drop out of the market."
Stanley suggests that over time, the LTE market is expected to be at least five times the size of the WiMax market.
CPE and handset baseband devices implement the OFDM physical layer (PHY) in hardware or software with DSP cores. Vendors with hardware-based solutions include Fujitsu Ltd., NextWave Wireless Inc.,Runcom Technologies Ltd., Sequans Communications , and Wavesat Inc.
Wavesat has begun shipping a DSP-based solution, joining Altair International Inc., Comsys Communications & Signal Processing Ltd. , and Intel Corp.
NXP Semiconductors is developing a DSP-based solution that would support most 2G and 3G networks, as well as WiMax and LTE. This group from NXP is now part of the STMicroelectronics/Ericsson AB joint venture announced in August 2008.
Most base-station baseband solutions are fully programmable using proprietary cores for media access control (MAC), PHY, and networking functions.
Leading vendors are DesignArt Networks, picoChip Designs Ltd. , Runcom Technologies Ltd. , and Wintegra Inc. , as well as general-purpose CPU/DSP suppliers such as Freescale Semiconductor Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc.. All these companies have made significant investments in production-ready software for WiMax, and most are developing software for LTE.
The report notes that RF front-end devices require a different skill set and technology. In addition to several baseband vendors, analog specialists Analog Devices Inc., Lime Microsystems , PMC-Sierra Inc. and Sierra Monolithics Inc. have RF ICs for WiMax and other wireless networks, including LTE.
Several vendors have already addressed this issue by integrating baseband and RF devices on a small module.