Mindspeed Technologies Inc. has announced that it signed a definitive agreement to sell the assets of its wireless infrastructure business unit to Intel Corp. Mindspeed has been a provider of network infrastructure semiconductor solutions to the communications industry, including femtocell and picocell chip sets (with ambitions to address the base station market). The company had earlier announced its sale of its non-wireless business to M/A-Com Technology Solutions Inc., so after the close of the wireless assets to Intel in February, it appears that Mindspeed will cease to exist.
Following Broadcom’s recent layoffs and re-direction of its LTE modem efforts, there has been industry speculation that Intel is also looking into the possible acquisition of Broadcom to even further accelerate its wireless market penetration.
Avago acquires LSI Logic
‘Tis the season for acquisitions. Avago Technologies Ltd. and LSI Corp. announced yesterday that Avago will acquire LSI for a reported $6.6 billion in cash. The deal strengthens Avago’s wired and wireless infrastructure business and adds leadership enterprise storage capabilities to its product portfolio. Avago’s wireless business (primarily power amplifiers and film bulk acoustic resonators/duplexers) has accounted for about 45% of the company’s revenue, with Apple as their biggest wireless customer. The combined company is said to be strongly positioned to capitalize on the growing opportunities in data center IP and mobile data traffic and annual revenues of about $5 billion are projected.
MagnaCom Claims 20-year Leap in Digital Communications
Privately-held MagnaCom (Laguna Niguel, CA) announced that it has developed a new modulation technology that is superior to QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) multi-bit coding employed in virtually all digital communication systems, wired and wireless. The patented technology is called WAM™ (WAve Modulation) and is said to be a drop-in replacement for QAM circuitry and does not require any changes to the analog or RF components. WAM Interfaces via the same “I/Q” Interface as QAM does today.
WAM is said to save spectrum and power, while providing increasing bandwidth, speed and distance and maintaining 100% backwards compatibility with legacy devices in use today. It modulates information differently, resulting in a major system gain benefit (e.g., up to 10dB vs. QAM4096). The inventor claims, compared to QAM, up to 50% lower power, up to 400% the distance, up to 50% spectrum savings and a major increase in speed resulting in lower cost and easier design. The company has partnered with Altera Corp. to create a demonstration platform for the upcoming International CES.
The company’s co-founder and CEO, Yossi Cohen, will host the demo. Most recently, Mr. Cohen served as Senior Vice President and General Manager at Motorola Mobility until its acquisition by Google in 2012. To arrange a meeting at CES, contact Jeremy Hyatt at +1-949-464-8926.
WAM is required at both ends of a communications link, so its initial rollout has to be for bounded applications…like microwave backhaul. It will take many years before the technology can be practical in cellular wireless. MagnaCom does not plan to make chips, but will license the technology.
In my last newsletter, I mentioned the problem of benchmarking modems vs. benchmarking application processors. My colleagues at EEMBC have generously shared some benchmarking information on selected Android-based cellphones that they have been collecting, based on the free AndEBench™ benchmarking program for application processors. The left bar chart below indicates the top 10 most popular phones (based on the number of user submissions of benchmark results to-date) while the right bar chart illustrates their respective CPU benchmark scores (how many times the benchmark loops in a second). The table indicates the apps processors in each of those phones.
Note that the Google Nexus 5 is the newest member of the group, so it had relatively few users submitting so far (even though it already made it to the top ten out of more than 4000 devices listed on EEMBC’s website), but has the highest score. Details on the methodology are on EEMBC’s website here. You can benchmark your own Android cellphone by downloading AndEBench here.
Qualcomm Targets Low End with 64-bit Quad-Core Snapdragon
Although the company is best known for introducing high-performance chips for high-end cellphones, Qualcomm has surprised the market by introducing the quad-core 64-bit LTE Snapdragon 410 modem/processor. The company claims that the 410 is targeted at sub-$150 handsets, perhaps an early attempt to stall potential acceptance of Intel’s 64-bit Bay Trail platform in the China market.
Now that TD-LTE is rolling out in China this month, there’s no time to waste. Apple, of course, will be quickly fielding its 64-bit 5s iPhones in the China market based on Qualcomm’s LTE modems and Apple’s own A7 application processor (The iPhone 5c will also be shipping, but it’s a 32-bit machine.). So, 64-bit cellphones will quickly provide instant bragging rights (and “face”) for status-conscious Chinese. The new 410 Snapdragon will not be shipping until Q3, but will certainly be found in several non-Apple cellphones then.
You may remember that Qualcomm originally re-engineered ARM’s V7 architecture through an architectural license (at a cost of some $300 million the company admitted) to achieve better performance and lower power than competitors using the then-popular ARM Cortex-A processor (c.2008). That redesign, updated over time, was the basis for many Qualcomm apps processors. Now, Qualcomm has licensed ARM’s V8 architecture and the new 410, however, appears to be based on “standard” Cortex A53 cores. Qualcomm’s earlier 32-bit Snapdragon 400 was also based on “standard” (Cortex A7) cores. Both of these indicate to me that time-to-market considerations (perhaps along with better ARM performance) have convinced Qualcomm it’s no longer worth re-engineering what already works.
Since iOS is already spoken for, those new cellphones will require 64-bit cellphone operating systems, of which there seem to be no others at the moment. Likely, a 64-bit version of Android is in the works and it may be relatively easy for Microsoft to field a 64-bit version of Windows Phone 8 Mobile. That could, in theory, give a leg up for HTC, Huawei, Nokia and others that employ Wp8 Mobile.
Marvell Rolls out 4G LTE Platform for China
The first three TD-LTE modem chip suppliers qualified by China Mobile were HiSilicon, Qualcomm and Marvell; soon to be followed by Spreadtrum and Nvidia. Marvell has announced that its PXA1802 modem platform will be in Yulong Coolpad’s 8736 LTE/TD-SCDMA smartphone that has been certified by China Mobile. According to Taiwan sources, in the first quarter of 2013 Coolpad displaced Apple and Huawei to become the third largest cellphone supplier in China, following Samsung and Lenovo. However, that third-place ranking may be short-lived, since Apple now has (TD-LTE) iPhones that can serve giant China Mobile’s newfound capability following the government award of TD-LTE licenses to all three carriers in China. See my EETimes blog for more on TD-LTE and Apple’s expanded opportunity in China.
To address the even wider global market, Marvell just announced its PXA1088LTE Pro platform which provides both advanced multi-mode modem and quad-core ARM Cortex A7MP application processor on a single chip. Until now, Marvell has taken out an architectural license on virtually all of its licensed ARM cores, but like Qualcomm, as mentioned above, it appears that the company has decided to license “standard” ARM cores in future products.
Imagination Expands its IP Portfolio to Include ISP and Connectivity
At CES, graphics giant Imagination Technologies will not only be showcasing its traditional video and graphics IP, but will also introduce its new PowerVR Series 2 “Raptor” scalable image signal processing architecture. Imagination claims that its new ISP is the first one designed to operate as a cooperative part of a heterogeneous computing platform for next-generation applications.
In addition, Imagination is highlighting its Ensigma division by rolling out the world’s first Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM combo IP (not chip). This is a new family of Ensigma Series4 “Explorer” radio processor unit (RPU) cores. Until now, the $4.3 billion combo chip market has been dominated by Broadcom and Texas Instruments, but now other companies can enter that market segment with IP licensed from Imagination.
u-Blox Changes LTE Direction…again
You may recall that u-Blox, the Swiss company best known for GPS modules, acquired LTE modem house CogNovo and later LTE stack house 4M Wireless. We assumed at the time that u-Blox was aiming their newly acquired technology at M2M implementations that augmented its GPS product line.
Two months ago u-Blox indicated on their website that their LTE technology was available for licensing. Now, the website makes no mention of licensing. So the company has obviously changed direction.
Heterogeneous Computing also Includes DSP
Some of the newest LTE smartphone chips are combining the modem core on the same die as the application processor, also enabling the shared usage of modem’s DSP(s) for multimedia functions with the apps processor CPU and GPU cores, like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips and potentially, Broadcom’s acquired Renesas Mobile device and Nvidia’s Tegra 4i. I expand on my opinion at RCR Wireless’ Analyst Angle.
As always, I encourage your feedback.
President & Principal Analyst