Stand-alone solution may be more affordable and cut power costs

Qualcomm, Inc.'s (QCOM) Snapdragon S4 was viewed as a major evolutionary leap in smartphone chipmaking as it incorporated an on-die 4G LTE modem into the central system-on-a-chip.  Not so fast, says Broadcom Corp. (BRCM).  The veteran modem-maker announced this week a stand-alone alternative that it brags will offer superior power and pricing to Qualcomm's offerings.

The 28 nm chip, dubbed BCM21892, is currently being sampled and will be mass-produced next year, targeting the smartphone and tablet markets.  It supports transmissions of up to 150 Mbps and voice-over-LTE (voLTE), as well as other advanced LTE technologies.  It cuts power consumption by about 25 percent from the previous generation and cuts space by 35 percent, both thanks to the die shrink.

Currently Broadcom dominates the market for Bluetooth/Wi-Fi helper chips for smartphones, a function that still has yet to be incorporated on-die in Qualcomm's chips.

But the LTE modem will likely see strong interest from handset designers, as well, given that the other top ARM chipmakers besides Qualcomm -- NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) and Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930) -- lack on-die LTE.

Broadcom, a top mobile signalling support-chip producer has announced an
LTE offering for 2014. [Image Source: oskay/Flickr]

Broadcom wireless unit EVP Robert A. Rango comments, "Broadcom's new 4G LTE modem combined with our Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC technologies gives OEMs all the communications technologies needed to build advanced devices that will offer consumers the features, speed and functionality they demand in their next smartphone purchase.  Broadcom's 4G LTE modem will also help carriers drive new 4G LTE features, such as carrier aggregation, into commercial networks."

Analysts speculate that at some point Broadcom may leap from the role of teammate with NVIDIA and Samsung to rival, as it steps up its war with Qualcomm.  Speculation began in January when Broadcom purchased ARMv7 and ARMv8 instruction set licenses from ARM Holdings Plc. (LON:ARM).  

Currently Broadcom offers a few ARMv6-based processors (including the one used in the Raspberry Pi USB stick-style Linux computer), but lacks a serious smartphone processor offering.

Analysts think Broadcom may be preparing a next generation processor/modem system-on-a-chip for release sometime in the next couple years.  Such a move would certainly leverage Broadcom's extensive experience in signaling silicon, but it would also be risky as it could alienate NVIDIA and Samsung, hurting Broadcom's more traditional business.

Source: Broadcom

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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