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Broadcom claims world's smallest LTE modem

Chip will appear in devices next year, boasting low power consumption, but not integration with processors

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 12 February, 2013

READ MORE: Broadcom | Semiconductor | LTE

Broadcom has enlarged on its plans to enter the LTE modem chip race from next year, challenging the dominant Qualcomm.

CEO Scott McGregor said the chip was now sampling and should start generating revenues in 2014. The firm claims the BCM21892 is the world's smallest LTE modem, and also able to support LTE-Advanced and VoLTE. It combines a world-band radio and cellular baseband in a chip about 35% smaller than those currently on the market, and claims about 25% lower power consumption. It supports LTE Category 4 speeds of 150Mbps and supports hand-offs between LTE, 3G and 2G.


However, it will be hard to break the hold of Qualcomm, which sold 86% of the 47m LTE chips shipped in 2012, according to Will Strauss of Forward Concepts, while Samsung was in second place with 9%, largely because of demand from its own handset company.

Others like Renesas also offer LTE basebands, but the real race, as the 4G device market starts to gain critical mass, will be for the integrated system-on-chip combining processor and modem. This is Qualcomm's forte, and others aim to emulate it - Nvidia, for instance, is combining its Tegra app processor with the 3G/LTE modem technology it acquired with Icera.

Intel also bought into the baseband market with the purchase of Infineon Wireless, but has said it will not have an integrated SoC until the second half of next year. And Broadcom's offering will be standalone. It talks of the "ability to interface with a broad range of standalone applications processors".

So the real competitive edge may come from combining the chip with connectivity 'combo' offerings - integrating Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC and other radios - in which Broadcom is a major player. Qualcomm has been playing catch-up with Broadcom, Marvell and Texas Instruments in this respect, since acquiring Wi-Fi specialist Atheros. The company promises its techniques "minimize the possibility of radio interference between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 4G LTE, and enables carriers to provide a richer Wi-Fi offload experience".

"Broadcom's new 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," said Robert Rango, general manager of the firm's mobile and wireless group, adding thtat it would "also help carriers drive new 4G LTE features, such as carrier aggregation, into commercial networks".

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