SAN FRANCISCO--While Texas Instruments Inc. pushes forward quickly and aggressively with its OMAP mobile processor, some still wonder whether the firm’s “strategic decision” to leave out baseband could come back to bite it.
While competing silicon vendors have rushed to integrate baseband onto their chips, TI has shied away from doing so, calling it a mere “distraction” and proclaiming itself glad to no longer be dealing with the connectivity side of the business.
“TI made a strategic decision in 2008 to phase out of the baseband segment and focus on two key wireless growth areas: OMAP processors and wireless connectivity solutions,” said the firm’s Director of Strategic Marketing, Avner Goren, when confronted with the question.
“We continue to see proof that this was the right decision, especially as multimedia capabilities are innovating at twice the pace of access technology,” he said, adding that this was especially true with the sheer pace of innovation in the industry, which he claimed mandated a more discrete approach in order to facilitate faster time-to-market.
Indeed, while new application processors tend to tape out every nine to 12 months, new modems are on a slower cycle of 12 to 18 months, though LTE-Advanced may close the gap a little. Currently, however, this is typically the reason argued for keeping modems and processors on separate dice.
On the other hand, mobile chip giant Qualcomm, which does integrate modems onto its Snapdragon processors, has managed to keep pace with its rivals, largely debunking the naysayers.
Instead of integrating its own baseband technology, TI says it supports a range of access technologies which Goren claims allows the firm to integrate its platform with multiple standards from modem suppliers or OEMs with proprietary offerings.
Goren added that TI was also pushing chip-to-chip (C2C) interface technology which allows the removal of the modem DDR, purportedly resulting in memory cost and PCB footprint savings.
“We license C2C to major modem vendors, and have partnered with Arteris to widely deploy it,” he said, noting that TI had also actively supported the MIPI Alliance’s standardization of the Low Latency Interface (LLI), targeted for OMAP 5 integration.
While Goren’s defense seems solid on the surface, however, analysts in the space have cast doubt over TI’s dismissal of baseband.
Analyst Will Strauss of Forward Concepts believes Goren is simply “towing the party line,” and that while it’s certainly true that modems and application processors are on different road maps, integration of the two is a growing trend, especially in terms of cheaper, lower-end phones.
Analyst Jim McGregor of In-Stat agreed, saying that not only would it be cheaper and less of a battery drain, but that Moore’s law actually facilitated it.
“TI’s argument doesn’t hold water, because it’s not a question of ‘if’ baseband should be integrated onto the chip, but when,” McGregor said. “If you’re going to be playing in the smartphone market, you need baseband.”
Not sure TI really had choice to stay or not in the Baseband business. They overlooked the 3G. The cost was going to be very high to play catch-up in 2008/2009.
BTW, in 2015, 75% of the mobile market will be shared between those vendors who have both the apps processor and the baseband. TI will find a market share in the remaining 25% unless they decide to come back to the Baseband market,
Integrated Mobile processor is going to be way forward, just think what all companies are doing other than TI, Nvidia with accquisition of Icera in process of making integrated solution, ST-E Nova thor already had one, Intel with accquisition of Infineon Wireless will some day integrate it in their Atom, Renesas Mobile with accquisition of Nokia wireless modem will integrate it, Broadcomm and Qualcomm already doing it. That leaves 2 players Samsung and Apple and both of them design their own application processor and does not sell it to anyone so they can continue on that path.
Problem with TI is they never had good 3G baseband and they were too ignorant to leave this market now it's extremly difficut for them, they don't have RF, 3G baseband , LTE baseband and worst no crediable baseband IP available in market. Just think 28 nm integrated baseband + Application processor is going to strom market next year from Qualcomm , i think after that in 2013 all will be ready.
Perhaps Qualcomm prefer Baseband integration because they own so much wireless IP. They can afford to throw everything but the kitchen sink into their Baseband because they don't have to pay royalties.
When LTE is more widespread perhaps a Software Defined Modem will be very computationally demanding, but once you license one it will cover all the legacy comms. Perhaps TI, Apple and others expect to do just that. On the other hand they may expect to pick up some Baseband cheap as the market consolidates.
I believe Will Strauss of Forward Concepts is simply "towing a different party line" and that while integration of baseband modems and application processors is an available solution, especially in lower-end phones, the predominant trend is the transition from lower-end phones to smartphones. Of the top 4 smartphone suppliers, only HTC appears to be committed to an integrated baseband/processor solution. Apple and Samsung are investing in their own application processors that include integration of other innovative features but not baseband modems. For the next 3 years, I think the remaining smartphone suppliers are more likely to choose application processors coupled with stand-alone baseband modems in an attempt to keep pace with Apple and Samsung on innovation. That would leave 50% of the smartphone processor sockets open for competition for companies like TI, Samsung, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Broadcom, ST, eventually Intel, and others. I'd say execution is a bigger determining factor of who will win in this space than the baseband modem strategy.
TI isn't alone who calls baseband "a distraction." Freescale made a similar call a few years back. And I actually agree with both of them. Keeping up with the latest baseband development could suck the life out of you. But on the other hand, once you are out of the baseband business, you are pretty much telling the wolrd that you are no longer a serious mobile handset chip vendor. You need to reposition your apps processor for consumer devices other than smartphones or feature phones. I think both TI and Freescale have great apps processors. But where those chips will shine is probably in design wins other than phones.
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