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Analyst expects single-die HSUPA chips in handsets by 2H/09

Posted: 31 Oct 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:HSUPA Processor  FM radio transmitter  Single-Die UMTS Chip 

Claiming to be over a year ahead of competitors, on October 15th Broadcom announced its single-chip HSUPA Processor, the BCM21551. The 65-nm single-die solution also includes a multi-band RF transceiver, Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR, an FM radio receiver and an FM radio transmitter for car stereo music playback. The device also features advanced multimedia processing with a pair of ARM 11 RISCs paired with the CEVA DSP baseband. Although an external power management chip is still required, this represents the most advanced 3G baseband announced to-date, and a nice follow-on to the "conventional" Broadcom UMTS chip set that is now shipping in selected Samsung handsets.

But, Will Broadcom's be the First Single-Die UMTS Chip in a Cellphone?

The only question is when will it be in a production-level cellphone? Broadcom claims that the BCM21551 is "available now to early access customers," but on their introductory conference call they indicated that the chip they have now is the first tape-out and billed it as "Version 0 Rev A," and not yet completely verified. That indicates to us that general sampling is probably not before the second half of 2008. Broadcom said that the device would be shipping in cellphones "in 2009," but we assume that's the second half of 2009, since a typical handset design-in takes about 18 months.

But, by the 2H/09 timeframe, we also expect single-die HSUPA chips from Infineon, Qualcomm and possibly TI to also begin shipping in handsets. So why the early announcement by Broadcom? It appears that Broadcom may have inherited TI's propensity to announce products well in advance of production. We assume the idea is for prospective customers to not become enamoured of other products that may be announced before Broadcom can fill volume sockets.

Qualcomm's first single-die "3G" chip

First, you have to understand that Qualcomm (QCOM) calls all of its CDMA-based chips as "3G chips", regardless of whether they are CDMA-1xEV (2.5G, in our opinion), 1xEV-DO or HSPA chips. QCOM announced its first "single-chip" CDMA-1xEV chip a year ago. That chip was destined for the low-end handset market for India. When asked if it was a single-die chip, Qualcomm executives insisted that it truly was single-die and not single-package, and unlike TI's earlier-introduced LoCosto chip, they bragged that it also included on-board power management.

That was, to say it nicely, a prevarication. At an analyst meeting this Summer, the company 'fessed up, explaining that to its customers it appeared to be a "single chip," so it didn't really matter that the data sheet said "single chip" even though it was actually a multi-die solution.

Although we have nothing against multichip packaging, the deception caused Forward Concepts to erroneously rank Qualcomm among those who actually were shipping single-die baseband/transceiver solutions (namely, TI, Silicon Labs, Infineon and Atheros).

But Qualcomm has now announced its first single-die chip, billed as "SoC" chip. For that same low-end CDMA-1xEV market, the company has introduced the QSC1100, with sampling slated for "early 2008." That would appear to indicate that Qualcomm is lagging Broadcom in the single-die race, but QCOM continues to be at the front of the pack in turning out new wireless products on a timely basis.

Qualcomm's GobiT: New chips or new packaging?

Intended for notebook PCs, Qualcomm has introduced a cellular chipset (MDM1000, code named Gobi) that provides both CDMA2000 EV-DO and HSPA capability, worldwide. Although QCOM claims that this chipset was designed from the ground up, this could also be a case of innovative multichip packaging, since QCOM has already been shipping both EV-DO and HSPA chips, separately. Notebook owners, however, will still have to select a specific cellular operator's service, which could impose geographic limits on use.

Texas Instruments' approach

Earlier this year, TI quietly ceased development of its UMTS OMAP-VOX baseband chip (OMAPV2230) that was first announced in November, 2005. The OMAPV2230 sampled, but did not go into production. TI has stated that the chipset market in Japan, where it originally invested, did not develop as they expected. The cancellation led to approximately 300 layoffs, worldwide.

The cancellation coincided with the idea that in the near term, TI could make more money continuing to ship UMTS baseband silicon designed by its customer. TI still claims to have a 50 per cent market share in UMTS basebands. TI says it expects to maintain this position, pointing to recently announced 3G engagements with Motorola and Ericsson Mobile Platforms. The company now says that it is "leveraging its DRP (digital radio processing) technology" for its next-generation single-die solution.

Infineon, InterDigital & Apple

Infineon (IFX) is also developing a single-die UMTS/HxPA solution, and is currently shipping single-die GSM/GPRS chips to a number of customers, in volume. We have confirmed that IFX is now producing "conventional" UMTS baseband chips for at least two cellphone companies, one of which appears to be Samsung and the other may be for Apple's HSDPA iPhone. Since IFX is the supplier of the EDGE baseband and RF transceiver for apple's iPhone, the follow-on idea is not a stretch. Besides, IFX is currently the only volume merchant vendor of a UMTS RF transceiver (other than Qualcomm) and is having one of the most advanced RF roadmaps including WiMAX and LTE, driving 65 nm and beyond.

So, it also appears that Samsung may be breaking away from Qualcomm's WCDMA iron grip with UMTS basebands from both Broadcom and Infineon.

Last year, Comneon, a wholly-owned subsidiary of IFX, and InterDigital (IDCC) expanded cooperation to include IDCC's 3G (WCDMA, HSDPA & HSUPA) protocol stack with the IFX GSM/GPRS/EDGE baseband IPR. IFX, in turn, has also licensed the 3G stack to, of all companies, Broadcom.

DSP shipments turn the corner

The good news is that third-quarter DSP chip shipments were up almost 11 per cent in dollars. But, all of the growth was in Asia Pacific, with U.S. growth flat, Europe down 5 per cent and Japan down just over 11 per cent.

The bad news is that overall DSP ASPs dropped another 5.8 per cent in the quarter, and down 14 per cent compared to last year's Q3 figure. Most of that drop is attributable to the greater shipments of inexpensive cellphones (compared to smartphones and feature phones), mostly in Asia.

Cellphone DSP shipments (the largest DSP market segment) were up over 10 per cent for the quarter in spite of an ASP drop of about 5 per cent. Wireless infrastructure DSP shipments were up a respectable 13 per cent in revenue, in spite of an almost 8 per cent drop in ASPs.The only "down" market was wired communications. With revenues down almost 17 per cent on an increase in ASP of about 12 per cent is truly odd, with unit shipments dropping by 25 per cent. The telecommunications infrastructure business continues to be a tough market.

The other "up" DSP markets included consumer, with revenues up 16 per cent, in spite of a 6 per cent decline in ASP. Clearly, these were shipments to China and Korea, not Japan (which was down 11 per cent). We suspect that increasing production in China by Japanese companies is the reason for the disparity.

Computer DSP chip revenues were up just over 30 per cent on steady ASPs. Computer DSPs are mostly in hard disk driver controllers, so the pickup in PC shipments has helped that market segment.

Automotive shipments were up almost 10 per cent with a 7 per cent increase in ASP, in spite of lower 2007 automobile unit production. We believe that this indicates more higher-end multimedia revenue is going into dashboards and increasing use of DSPs going into powertrain and safety-related applications.

Finally, the so-called multipurpose DSP chip market was up 15.5 per cent with a steady ASP. This market segment tends to be catalogue and off-the-shelf chips in relative small quantities, but includes some of the highest performing (read: expensive) chips for high-end audio and video processing as well as industrial and military applications.

- Will Strauss
President & principal analyst
Forward Concepts

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