SAN FRANCISCO — Broadcom and Mediatek have rolled out competing integrated LTE applications processors focused on sub-$300 smartphones in their race to catch up with announced chips from market-leader Qualcomm in what are still the early days of 4G cellular.
Broadcom announced a reference design ready for production using a dual-core chip with a quad-core version coming by June. Mediatek's brawnier eight-core chip won't be in production in Asia until this fall and perhaps not until 2015 in the US.
Both companies aim to ride a smartphone market growing between 20 and 30 percent this year, where LTE is only available in 28 percent or less of the globe, Robert Rango, general manager of Broadcom’s mobile and wireless group, said at a briefing.
Global LTE forecast map.
Broadcom introduced an LTE reference platform enabling designs that could go into production in three to four months. It's aimed at sub-$300 LTE smartphones and uses the company’s dual-core M320 LTE SoC with 150 Mbit/s Category 4 speeds. The five-mode LTE device is pin compatible with a quad-core LTE SoC set to sample in the first half of this year. The chips support WiFi, NFC, and voice over LTE (VoLTE).
“We’re the only one that will have a SoC in production in the first quarter of this year besides Qualcomm,” said Ketan Kamdar, Broadcom’s vice president of mobile platforms. “Carriers want LTE at sub-$300, sub-$200, and sub-$150 price points.”
For its part, Mediatek announced its first SoC with integrated LTE, the MT6595 octa-core SoC. The Cat 4 chip is powered by ARM Cortex-A17 and A7 CPUs in a big.LITTLE architecture and supports 4K2K video record and playback and WiFi. It targets $200 to $300 handsets.
The SoC uses a smart scheduling algorithm, which “adds another layer of power efficiency by judiciously using a processor,” said Mohit Bhushan, US marketing manager for Mediatek. Easier, smaller tasks are placed on the A7, and more intense applications, such as gaming or video streaming, are conducted on the A17, he added.
Bhushan expects the SoC to sample in Asia in late May or early June of this year with a full commercial release in the third quarter, possibly in September. Release may come later in the US due to modem certification, pushing mass production to 2015. Still, Bhushan said MediaTek isn’t worried about being a latecomer into the LTE SoC race.
“LTE was the biggest missing piece last year. I feel very hopeful we’ll get good attention from US operators who want LTE in their portfolio,” Bhushan told EE Times. “MediaTek’s strength is more in the Asia market.”
Bhushan did not identify any OEM commitments in the US, but pointed to MediaTek’s work with Alcatel and T-Mobile. The company has talked to LG, Sony, and HTC, as well as ZTE, Lenovo, and Huawei for Asian markets, he said.
Rango said Broadcom had 44 engagements with reference designs in China last year and 100 in 2014.
Broadcom also demonstrated LTE Advanced on a live commercial network in Finland. The test was completed on Elisa's commercial LTE network with Broadcom's LTE-A Cat 6 technology at data rates of 300 Mbit/s. According to a release, the test was performed by aggregating two 20 MHz channels in the 1800 MHz band (LTE Band 3) and the 2600 MHz band (LTE Band 7).
Although Mediatek hasn’t officially announced a test, Bhushan said the company is “working on 300 Mbit/s, both Cat 6 devices and beyond Cat 6.” Features such as carrier aggregation in both downstream and upstream for those that don’t have continuous spectrum allocation are “part of our roadmap,” he said.
Continued quick development on higher-speed processors may be key to beating the current LTE frontrunner, Qualcomm, which announced an LTE SoC in December 2013. The Snapdragon 410 chips are expected to sample early this year and appear in commercial devices by the second half of 2014.
“Qualcomm is very strong at the high end; Mediatek is the leader at low end," Linley Gwennap, founder and chief analyst at The Linley Group, told EE Times last year. "What we’re seeing in the next year is Qualcomm invading Mediatek’s market, and Mediatek will invade Qualcomm’s -- it’s going to be a real slugfest out there."
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times