PARIS – We all know that the baseband chip market for mobile handsets has been a bloody business fought among too many vendors. I'm not alone in wondering if the budding LTE market might thin the ranks with just a few mobile chip players left standing. China Mobile might turn out to be the grim reaper.
So far, only Texas Instruments among current smartphone chip suppliers has given up hope of surviving in the LTE market. TI recently announced a plan to cut about 1,700 jobs, and reiterated its intention to shift the focus of its OMAP product line away from smartphones.
Qualcomm continues to dominate the smartphone baseband market, and it’s dominance is not likely to change in the coming LTE world.
That hasn’t stopped companies such as MediaTek, Marvell, Spreadtrum, ST-Ericsson and Renesas Mobile from going after the LTE market as the “Qualcomm alternative.” Many have described big plans to launch multi-mode, multi-frequency chips that are backward-compatible with the legacy baseband systems.
Indeed, the list of chip companies gunning for the LTE baseband business appears to be increasing, not shrinking.
A Japanese mobile chip joint venture called Access Network Technology last week tipped plans for the company’s first LTE baseband chip, scheduled to be designed into Fujitsu’s smartphone handsets by the summer 2013.
The Japanese joint venture, founded in August, consists of Fujitsu (52.8 percent), NTT Docomo (19.9 percent), NEC (17.8 percent) and Fujitsu Semiconductor (9.5 percent). This is an offshoot of an off-again, on-again NTT Docomo-led mobile chip venture. Original members included Panasonic and Samsung, but the deal was cancelled last spring when stakeholders disagreed on the details of the joint venture.
According to a Fujitsu spokesman, the JV's baseband chip is integrated with LTE, W-CDMA and China Mobile’s TD-LTE modems. The company claims power consumption in the new modem chip will be lower than competitors’ products by as much as 30 percent.
Of course, not every so-called “LTE solution” is the same.