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Samsung pits itself against Qualcomm in LTE

Posted: 15 Jul 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Exynos  Samsung  LTE  Qualcomm 

Samsung shone the spotlight last week on an Exynos ModAP-powered LTE radio chip that supports both FDD and TDD, fabricated using the 28nm HKMG process.

With the integration of its own quad-core processor, Samsung is consolidating its cellular component under the Exynos brand—mimicking Qualcomm's Snapdragon family of mobile chips. The intention is clear: Get Qualcomm.

However, the amount of damage Samsung can wreak in today's totally Qualcomm-dominated LTE market remains unclear.

Samsung's move is destined to design Qualcomm's chips out of Samsung's handsets and tablets. But the LTE-app processor combo chip, which hasn't even hit the market yet, has already delivered the biggest blow. The casualty isn't Qualcomm. It's Broadcom, which announced plans in early June to shut down its cellular base band business (see Broadcom seeks to retire its cellular base band business).

No matter how you slice the LTE market, Qualcomm still has a solid lock on the mobile chip market. "Qualcomm still enjoys over 95 per cent of the multi-mode LTE market, even with new entries announced in 2014," Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, told us.

Strategy Analytics reported (subscription required) that Samsung ranked fourth in the LTE base band market in the first quarter with a revenue share of just 1.7 per cent.

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Multi-mode and single-mode FDD-LTE base band supplier share in 2013. Source: Forward Concepts

Samsung isn't new to the LTE modem business. It has been shipping its own multi-mode 4G modem used inside its Galaxy 4 and 5 handsets, but the company has done so "only in Korea," according to Forward Concepts.

For handsets and tablets sold in the rest of the world, Samsung has relied on competitors' LTE modem chips. "Depending on the region, Samsung employed Qualcomm 4G modems, while they have employed 4G modems from Intel—actually, the Galaxy Tab 3 10-inch socket—and Marvell's and Renesas/Broadcom 4G modems in Galaxy Tab 3 seven-inch sockets," Strauss said.

That picture is about to change.

Bigger impact on Broadcom

The industry views Samsung's announcements about its LTE/Modem combo chip and an LTE-Advanced modem—both based on Ceva's DSP—as "a genuine attempt by Samsung to legitimise its base band offerings for the first time," Strauss said.

To Qualcomm, which is already feeling rivals like Marvell and MediaTek nipping at its heels, Samsung's new LTE-app processor combo chip is one more worry.

"I fully expect that Qualcomm and others will be eliminated from future Samsung smartphones," Forward Concepts' Strauss said. However, "Samsung may still employ Intel and others in select tablets."

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