MADISON, Wis. – China Mobile’s plan, announced Thursday (March 14), to spend 41.7 billion yuan ($6.7 billion) this year developing 4G technology has triggered a fresh round of speculation that China Mobile is finally getting ready to roll out Apple iPhones enabled for its network.
But setting iPhones aside, China Mobile’s aggressive investment in 4G is also signaling another trend in China: the heated battle for multi-mode LTE chips.
Among those best-positioned to ride China Mobile’s LTE wave early on are a handful of chip companies such as Qualcomm and HiSilicon, the latter joined at the hip to captive customer Huawei.
Marvell Technology, armed with the company’s own well proven multi-mode LTE modem chips that includes TDD-LTE, FDD-LTE, WCDMA, TD-SCDMA and GPRS 2G, is also jockeying to join an elite group of multi-mode LTE modem suppliers in China.
While the industry often views Marvell’s smartphone chip business tied to the future fate of BlackBerry (and Marvell is standing by BlackBerry), it rarely pays enough attention to the Santa Clara-based company’s aggressively forward-looking strategy. In particular, little discussed is Marvell’s plan to roll the dice on China’s LTE market.
Ivan Lee, vice president of mobile products at Marvell, in an interview with EE Times Thursday, said, “A lot of people will be surprised to see our five-mode LTE solutions [starting to make inroads in handsets] this year.”
Indeed, Marvell already offers a multi-mode LTE thin-modem, called PXA1802. The modem, already cleared by global certification processes, is designed to pair easily with Marvell’s competitors’ apps processors as well. ZTE, for example, is said to be launching a new smartphone in the next quarter using Marvell’s PXA1802 combined with a third-party apps processor.
Marvell is also gung-ho about the introduction of a new SoC -- yet to be announced – that combines Marvell’s five-mode LTE modem and ARM A7-based quad-core apps processor in a single chip. This will be an LTE version of the follow on to the PXA1088, a quad-core ‘world phone’ targeted at the 3G market, which Marvell announced last month before the Mobile World Congress.
The new SoC, which includes LTE features to make it five-mode, is scheduled for sampling in the second quarter. “You will see phones using this single-chip SoC before the end of this year,” said Lee. Marvell is confident the company can win the multi-mode LTE battle because “we have both a mature five-mode LTE modem and a mature apps processor,” said Lee.
Missing from Marvell’s five-mode LTE modem solutions, however, is CDMA. Lee explained that plenty of carriers around the globe do not require CDMA. “Even in the United States, Verizon announced its plan to migrate from CDMA to LTE,” he added. Although such a transition is not likely to happen overnight, Marvell’s five-mode LTE chip is “a device you can use not only in China, but in North America and Europe -- pretty much everywhere,” said Lee.
Is it too early?
Some industry observers wonder if Marvell is plunging into LTE way too early -- even before China’s cellular networks are ready with LTE. Marvell’s more cautious competitors, including Spreadtrum, MediaTek and Nvidia, appear to be at least a few quarters behind Marvell with full-blown plans for multi-mode LTE solutions. They argue that you always want to be ahead of your competition, but you never want to be on the bleeding edge, either.