MWC Will be a Multi-mode LTE Chip Blowout!
-Broadcom will showcase its just-announced BCM21892 LTE-A modem chip. (See below)
-Intel will likely announce sockets for its XMM7160 LTE modem, said to already be in production.
-Renesas Mobile will showcase its complete Cat 4 LTE platform (see below).
-Nvidia will show its i500 multimode/multiband LTE modem and the Tegra 4i (See below).
-Altair will break out of the pack with a system partner for its new LTE modem and transceiver.
-Fujitsu Wireless will reveal details on its 2nd-generation LTE RF Transceiver (See below).
-Spreadtrum will feature its TDD-/FDD-LTE/TD-SCDMA/WCDMA/2G modem and quad-core Cortex-A7 apps processor.
-Qualcomm will detail its Snapdragon 600 and 800 products announced at CES.
Nvidia Drops a Bomb: Tegra 4i
Some of you may remember that in my November 3, 2010 newsletter I recommended that either Nvidia or Texas Instruments purchase modem house Icera. That was because the two application processor companies had to eventually pair their products with a cellular modem or risk addressing a diminishing share of the smartphone market. TI didn’t follow my advice and they have since left the smartphone market. Nvidia, on the other hand, followed my recommendation and the culmination of that acquisition is at hand. Nvidia introduced the Tegra 4 and the (Icera) i500 LTE modem as separate chips at the recent CES, but that was just the preamble to the real story.
The stunner is the Tegra 4i application processor and modem on the same die. The 4i is based on four Cortex-A9 (2.3-GHz) CPUs jointly developed with ARM with a fifth “battery saver” core along with 60 GPU cores and a version of the i500 LTE modem optimized for integration. It took Nvidia only 20 months after the Icera acquisition to field this combined application processor/advance modem product (that we call a com-processor). Compare that time span with comparable acquisitions and it’s clear that the marriage has gone well. Of course, Icera had been offering modems since 2005 and had an aggressive startup culture and advanced wireless design talent while Nvidia had deeper pockets and an equally aggressive culture (sounds like a Reese’s peanut butter & chocolate cup commercial).
The i500 multimode modem based on a 28nm process is paired with its own 65nm RF transceiver (multi-band FDD & TDD LTE/HSPA+/EDGE and TD-SCDMA) with RX diversity. Although the i500 modem is being introduced with LTE Cat 3 capability (100 Mbps DL), it is said to be software upgradeable to LTE Cat 4 with carrier aggregation (150 Mbps DL); it is perhaps the only LTE modem capable of software upgradeability (over the air, no less); so it really is a software-defined radio (SDR).
The i500 is now shipping as an option in the ASUS VivoTab™ Windows RT tablet, but we are looking forward to the 4i which is scheduled for sampling later this year, with production in early 2014. (Isn’t everybody’s?)
Fujitsu Wireless in Arizona: Still a Leader
As the wireless industry continuously morphs, the Fujitsu Wireless team in Tempe, Arizona (with a Motorola heritage) still remains as probably the best stand-alone RF team in the world. The advanced multi-mode transceivers they produce are essentially band- and mode-agnostic, supporting every protocol (GSM/GPRS/EDGE/CDMA/WCDMA/TD-SCDMA/LTE-FDD/LTE-TDD) on a single chip in all the commonly-defined 3GPP bands up to 2.7GHz.
Fujitsu is now shipping its 2nd generation of these LTE multi-mode 2G/3G/4G transceivers with advanced features like Antenna Tuning and Envelope Tracking supported. With its internal DSP that also supports smart antennas, device support for any application processor is accommodated. The first North American Carrier Certification was announced at CES qualifying the device to ship into Verizon on their Band 13 LTE network. They have also leveraged the TDD elements of their devices and submitted product into China field trials. The team is now busy working on the next gen LTE-Advanced solution preparing for Carrier Aggregation designs.
Intel Moving into TD-SCDMA?
After Intel acquired Infineon and closed down Infineon’s Comneon IP licensing subsidiary, the major source of merchant market 2G and 3G software stacks and IP dried up. However, just because it’s not openly marketed doesn’t mean that Intel is no longer licensing that technology. Leadcore Technology Co. Ltd. (a subsidiary of Datang Group) is a significant provider of TD-SCDMA modems and allied cellphone chips for the China market. Leadcore has entered into a strategic cooperation agreement with Intel Corp. to open their intellectual properties and patents to each other. Under the terms of the agreement, Intel will provide Leadcore Technology with its GSM-related intellectual properties and patents, while in return, Leadcore Technology will share its technical experience in the TD-SCDMA sector with the former. The December 2012 agreement is signaling a possible move by Intel into the TD-SCDMA market for late 2013 or early 2014.
Apple to Design its own LTE Modem?
There is a rumor “published” in Israel that Apple will be designing its own baseband and Wi-Fi chips. When Texas Instruments dropped out of the cellphone business, within a week about 100 of the former TI engineers in Israel were hired by Apple. Of course, Apple once hired a bunch of former VLSI Technology wireless engineers, but I understand that that operation came to naught. So, maybe Apple just wanted more engineering talent.
Another rumor is that Apple will employ Intel’s foundry service for its next-generation application processor production, distancing itself from dependence on Samsung. Since the press is full or rumors of Apple using TSMC for their next apps processor, employing Intel’s fab is not a certainty.
Broadcom Introduces LTE modem with Integrated RF
Broadcom’s anticipated LTE-A modem, the BCM21892, may be the first LTE modem to integrate an RF transceiver in the same package. The 28nm modem is full Cat4 (150 Mbps DL) and features LTE FDD and TDD, LTE-Advanced with carrier aggregation, DC-HSPA+, TD-SCDMA and EDGE/GSM. The advanced transceiver features envelope tracking which is becoming strong selling point because of the transmit power savings that it provides. The BCM21892 is now being sampled with volume shipments slated for 2014.
Marvell Makes 4G (but not LTE) Modem Announcement
Marvell Semiconductor today announced the Marvell PXA1088 “Worldphone”, a highly integrated quad-core Cortex-A7 application processor with a 4G modem (WCDMA, TD-SCDMA, HSPA+, and class 12 EDGE). This is what we term a “com-processor” since the modem and apps processor are in the same package (and possibly on the same die). To be sure, Marvell’s WCDMA and TD-SCDMA modem technology is field proven and the company is the TD-SCDMA com-processor market leader in China, having shipped over 17 million units there in 2012.
Marvell’s complete mobile platform solution includes Avastar 88W8777 WLAN + Bluetooth 4.0 + FM single-chip SoC and the L2000 GNSS Hybrid Location Processor, and an integrated power management and audio codec IC. The PXA1088 should help them to stay ahead of MediaTek, Spreadtrum Communications, ST-Ericsson (and soon, Qualcomm) in the China com-processor market. The product is currently sampling and is expected to be in customer products in the first half of this year.
Renesas Mobile’s SP2532 Cat-4 LTE Multimode Modem Platform
The Renesas Mobile SP2532 LTE platform comprises a multimode baseband modem, an RF transceiver, power amplifier, power management, etc. Using Cat-4 in a 20MHz bandwidth the SP2532 is said to achieve 20% more efficient power consumption than leading competitive products, requiring a meager 2mA per Mbit. This enhances battery life, especially when downloading large files such as videos, music and browsing complex web pages, enabling users to stay connected for longer on a battery charge. Uniquely, the SP2532 is compatible with, and has been pre-integrated with, all the currently available open market application processors. This enables customers to leverage their existing software and hardware assets while upgrading to LTE or to select the most appropriate processor to meet the requirements of new devices. Unlike competing offerings, the platform is available today for OEM design-in.
CEVA Bulks up its DSP Offering with MUST™
CEVA, Inc. the DSP IP market leader has added multi-core and floating point capability along with co-processor engines to its CEVA-XC product line. CEVA’s MUST (MUlticore System Technology) is a cache-based multi-core system technology with advanced support for cache coherency, resource sharing and data management. The company has added support for the ARM AX14 interconnect protocol and AMBA 4 ACE cache coherency extensions. Floating point operations are supported on full vector elements, processing up to 32 floating operations in every core cycle to meet the performance requirements for MIMO in demanding wireless applications like LTE-Advanced and 802.11ac as well as infrastructure applications. Although the company claims that it enables software-defined radio (SDR) with its product, by offering new co-processors for compute-intensive operations substantial power savings accrue.
Mindspeed Expands Transcede Line
Mindspeed has announced the third generation of its Transcede® family of small cell baseband processors: The T4400 for higher capacity metrocells and the T3400 for enterprise cells. The new products support dual-mode capability, allowing both LTE (either TD or FDD LTE) as well as simultaneous 3G (either HSPA or TD-SCDMA). The new products are fabricated in 28nm process and provide four times the baseband performance of Transcede products currently-shipping for carrier deployment. The family is architected to support current LTE-A standards, including carrier aggregation, as well as the upcoming standards, LTE-B / LTE-HI. Both products integrate CEVA XC4000 DSP cores, multiple clusters of ARM Cortex-A15 processors with symmetric multi-processing (SMP), together with hardware accelerators and co-processors. The T4400 and T3400 will sample in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Toshiba Intros Single-Mic Noise/Echo Cancellation Chip
Virtually all cellphones with noise and echo cancellation require two (or more) microphones. Toshiba, however, has introduced the TC94B24WBG single-microphone chip to enable hands-free calling and more. The chip features an integrated earphone speaker amplifier, headphone amplifier and line-output. It also features integrated audio post-processing features (equalizer, dynamic range controller). It’s based on a programmable CEVA TeakLite III DSP core. The chip is available now, with mass production slated for March 2013.
LTE Wireless Training Recommendation:
My colleague Peter Rysavy is one of the smartest wireless people I know and he can present technology in understandable terms. Peter is offering a new one-day course, 4G: Deep Technology Insights, on April 12 in Bellevue/Redmond, WA. The price is very modest and your time will be well spent if you can attend. Details are at www.rysavy.com/training.html .