EE Times: With all due respect, Marvell didn’t get into the mobile business in China until 2008. Why did you decide not to buy a company who had already developed TD-SCDMA or acquire anyone who had IPs?
Lee: We actually did look at all the IP options and potential acquisition targets. And we decided that we can do better if we do it ourselves.
Of course, at that time, many people told us that we were already too late to the market. They also advised us that we should purchase some IPs, and we should be using protocol stacks that have matured.
EE Times: Who already had TD-SCDMA solutions on the market in 2008 -- when you decided to join the baseband fray?
Lee:Spreadtrum, Leadcore, MediaTek (after their acquisition of ADI’s modem team), etc. The cost for these solutions was high; and we found them integrated poorly. As we were coming from nowhere, we thought we should develop an architecture that scales for the future.
EE Times: Speaking of architecture that scales for the future, are you referring to TD-LTE?
Lee: We are currently working on a TD-LTE modem. The TD-LTE, as it turns out, needs to be not only multi-mode but also it must respond to multi-frequency bands.
China Mobile recently announced the requirement for their TD-LTE. While it needs to be able to operate on TD-SCDMA and GSM inside China, it requires TD-LTE modem to offer roaming capability on 4G and FDD, not to mention 3G, WCDMA.
We’ll have a TD-LTE modem by the end of 2012, which meets all the requirements set forth by China Mobile.
EE Times: My understanding is that to design a truly multi-mode, multi-frequency LTE with every baseband flavor in it – including TD-SCDMA – is not easy to do, even for Qulacomm. Is that right?
Lee: True, because not everyone has a complete solution. But at Marvell, we do. Our coming LTE solution will be universal – not only applicable for China Mobile but for the worldwide market.
EE Times: I see Marvell betting on LTE for the company’s mobile strategy. But what about the growing mid- to entry-level smart phone market? Some say Marvell took its eyes off on that segment. Meanwhile, companies like MediaTek are eating your lunch.
Lee: I wouldn’t call it us taking our eyes off. We’ve done very well with our PXA920, dominating China’s TD-SCDMA-based smartphone market. But we do understand that the multi-core solutions are becoming very important, and our competitors have done very well. Our plan is to roll out over the next two to three quarters a family of TD-SCDMA-based chips – integrated with dual core, quad core and GPU.
EE Times: You say your group is not about “light product development” focused more on customer support – which a lot of multinationals have been doing.
Lee: Ye. We have quite a bit of autonomy here. We execute R&D, product development here in China.
EE Times: Are you at all concerned at all about IP theft or employee retention?
Lee: I understand that IP theft happened in the past. But at Marvell, I must say we’ve been lucky. We take IP protection very seriously, and we have put our IP policies in place. I think a lot of problems can be alleviated if we check our IP mechanism carefully, train our employees right.
EE Times: What about employee retention?
Lee: Our employees in China are young, and young people tend to move more often. But our work force has been pretty stable. Part of the reason is that we are one of the very few companies doing hardcore development work. That’s not very common in China. Our engineering team is well-trained and very specialized.
@chanj: great question! Given the diverse vertical market segments Marvell has presence in, I would imagine it will keep a core technology team in the valley. Marvell seems to have played its cards right in LED lighting, M2M communications, general analog-mixed signal, power management, and many others. Perhaps this China strategy is a move to maximize the local talent.
Looks like a smart move by Marvel, I do wonder if they want to increase their presence in China to be better positioned to pick up the local markets. It will be interesting to see how things progress there and if Marvel intends to keep feet in both US and China long term
If Marvell focuses on TD-XXX air interface, I will not be surprised that there are more R&D engineers in China. Eyes on China sounds a very good strategy at the moment and likely in the long run. The experience and knowledge acquired from home-grown TD-SCDMA and TD-LTE will likely benefit the company in the long run. Given all these, what's the focus of the development team in the Valley? If the market is going to be primarily in China, what about the marketing team in the States?
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.