So, who has LTE solutions for handsets?
As was the case with last month's World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, expect to find LTE everywhere at the CTIA. But don't hold your breath for commercial LTE chip solutions for mobile handsets -- anytime soon.
Forward Concept's Strauss said, "Dozens of companies claim to have LTE chips, but upon closer inspection, you find that they are 'almost' solutions."
Strauss said he does not expect LTE chips for handsets before late 2012. "That's because the first rollouts are for data only, meaning for USB data dongles and PC cards," he said.
Almost all of LTE solutions are FPGA implementations of their upcoming LTE-only product (except for Icera Semiconductor), targeted only for dongles and modules.
The Linley Group's Linley Gwennap agreed. After the Mobile World Congress last month, he said, "Not counting companies like Samsung, LG, and NTT DoCoMo that have demonstrated LTE technology but are not planning to sell it commercially, the vendors that are sampling working LTE silicon right now are Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson, and Altair," Gwennap observed. "These initial solutions are single-chip LTE basebands that require an external RF chip. In most cases, additional chips are needed for compatibility with 2G/3G networks."
From a licensable IP standpoint, Strauss said that there are LTE terminal solutions (in FPGA form), which have been demonstrated by CEVA and Tensilica (both using mimoOn PHY software), Blue Wonder Communications (using 4M Wireless' LTE PHY), and Cognovo (an ARM spinout staffed by ex-TTPCom 3G stack experts).
Meanwhile, Strauss singled out Icera Semiconductor as the only company that has publicly demonstrated both LTE and 3G on their current product. "They simply re-flashed one of its OEM customer's HSPA/5MHz dongles to run the LTE stack," he said. It's "a true illustration of a software-defined modem," as it is to deliver multimode LTE technology in software at no additional silicon cost.
CEVA, too, is going for a similar SDR option. The difference is, said Wertheizer, "Icera's solution is not based on an open core." As CEVA being a DSP core IP company, he added, "We are the only choice" allowing semiconductor companies to go for SDR by using an open core and commercially available tools.
The truth is that all 3G basebands are programmable
. . . albeit only by vendors themselves, said Strauss. "The key to CEVA's future success is to continue expanding their ecosystem of development tools and third-party support, mostly software," he added.
CEVA claims that CEVA-X cores are picking up interest among more chip vendors, as WiMax houses are heading to LTE. Sequans, the number two WiMax terminal chip vendor, last year announced that it is going with CEVA-X cores for LTE. Strauss said that Beceem, the number one in WiMAX terminal chips last year, told him that they were going with CEVA-X cores for their upcoming LTE product.