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Nvidia admits it needs integrated LTE

Nvidia needs combined chip for smartphone success, Renesas delivers high end LTE/processor platform


Published: 18 February, 2013

READ MORE: nVidia | Renesas | Semiconductor | Handset | LTE

As 4G smartphones come close to the mainstream, price pressures are already setting in, making it important for OEMs to be able to source all-in-one chipsets with integrated LTE baseband and application processor. These reduce cost and power, and in 3G have been very much the stronghold of Qualcomm. But in 4G, others hope to get a look-in.

Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia, admitted on the firm's recent Q412 earnings call that it would not make a major impression on the smartphone market until it had an integrated SoC. It acquired modem maker Icera for that purpose and expects to offer an all-in-one product later this year, but until then, its mobile sales will remain focused on the tablet, with its more forgiving component real estate and margins.

"This is an area where we will likely need to have an LTE modem in order to be successful and that's the reason why we work so hard to accelerate our LTE modem to market," Huang said. "We're working around the clock and with an LTE modem, the Tegra processor and our software capability, we will be able to address a much larger phone opportunity going forward. But we're not expecting to have a whole lot of phone design wins until we engage the market with LTE."

He added in a subsequent interview: "The baseband has changed from being a separate part. Nearly all our opportunities have been where LTE not required. When we are in situations where LTE is required, it's harder for us to compete for that business because competition has had the edge in that."

Despite these constraints, Tegra processor sales were up 98% year-on-year in the fourth quarter to $208.4m though that sum was down 15% sequentially. Overall, Nvidia reported Q4 net income of $174m, or 28 cents a share, up from $116m, or 19 cents a share, in the same period a year ago. Revenue was up 16% to $1.11bn.

Last week Broadcom set out its LTE stall though fully integrated chips will follow next year, and Intel does not expect to have integrated SoCs until 2014, despite its acquisition of Infineon Wireless in 2011.

But others are moving more rapidly. Renesas Mobile has announced the MP6530, its latest generation communication processor platform for LTE. Targeted at midrange to high end handsets priced between $200 and $400, it combines a 2GHz applications processor with a Category 4 LTE modem on a single die. It also harnesses ARM's big.Little technology for saving energy by balancing tasks across large and low power processors, in this case a Cortex-A15 MPCore and a Cortex-A7.

The new product focuses on a higher end category than Renesas's current MP5232 midrange platform and increases graphics performance threefold to support applications like immersive gaming and 1080p HD. Memory is also boosted threefold.

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