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Broadcom trains sight on mobile

Posted: 17 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile market? cellphone? 3G? 65nm chip?

McGregor sees Broadcom as a dispeller of 'IDM fantasies.'

Broadcom Corp. is accelerating its move to 65nm process technology as it sharpens its focus on the cellphone market and beyond.

"Basically, my strategy is an extension of what Broadcom has always done: focus on rapidly growing markets, build a broad IP portfolio on a common [process technology] platform and execute well," said Scott McGregor, Broadcom's president and CEO.

McGregor said that he has led Broadcom in two new directions: entering the cellphone market and ramping the shift to 65nm. The fabless chip company recently unveiled a number of 65nm chipsincluding a single-chip GbE controller, single-chip Edge device and 3G offeringsthat Broadcom said are the first of their kind at that node.

IDM fantasies
Some IDMs, McGregor said, cling to "fantasies that they can gain better margins from using their own fabs and their own chips, and that their fab ensures they'll become the first to market chips based on the newest process technology." Broadcom's experience has proved them wrong, he said.

A bigger question is how much momentum Broadcom can generate in the cutthroat cellphone chip market, which is dominated by Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and Freescale Semiconductor. By its own estimate, Broadcom holds only a 1-2 percent market share in baseband chips for cellphones.

Some industry analysts are optimistic. "This year, I expect a sharp pickup in Broadcom's market share, with second source Edge basebands designed in at Nokia, and UMTS and High-Speed Uplink Packet Access basebands going to Samsung," said Will Strauss, president of market researcher Forward Concepts.

Not everyone agrees. "It seems as if Broadcom's 65nm single-chip Edge design wins with Nokia will likely push out of 2008 and into 2009," said Craig Berger, an analyst with Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. Inc. Previously, he said, the market watcher had "expected that business to ramp slightly" in 2H.

Nokia opportunity
TI had dominated Nokia's handset baseband design sockets until late last year, when the Finnish company announced it would source from several baseband suppliers, including Broadcom, Infineon Technologies, STMicroelectronics and TI.

"Broadcom's revenue for cellular handset chips will likely trend near similar levels for most of 2008," Berger said in a report.

Broadcom has been working the cellphone chip market on several fronts beyond the baseband. The company has established a strong presence in the handset market with its Bluetooth, FM and Wi-Fi chips.

Broadcom hopes to bring HD camcorder functions to more cellphones.

According to Strauss, Broadcom is the top Bluetooth supplier for cellphones. He added that FM is coming on strong as a "must have" feature, and that multimedia demand is growing, though still limited by the high cost of streaming data over networks.

Forward Concepts' preliminary 2007 estimates show the cellphone Wi-Fi chip market to be competitive, with TI holding close to 30 percent and Broadcom 10 percent. Marvell and Atheros hope to catch up with their latest, lower-power Wi-Fi solutions for cellular.

HD camcorder phones
Broadcom also hopes to pry open more handset design sockets by bringing high-definition (HD) camcorder functions to cellphones. The company is rolling out a low power, 720p HD video encoder chip for mobile devices. And while no design wins have surfaced, an HD mobile multimedia processor, the BCM2727, appears to have gotten some attention from competitors such as Qualcomm, said Strauss.

Frank Dickson, chief research officer at MultiMedia Intelligence, described the BCM2727 as "the most impressive demo" he saw at the last Consumer Electronics Show.

Asked about potential customers for the camera chip, McGregor said, "Our job is identifying things that will become mainstream five years from now."

Looming even larger is whether cellular operators will want to subsidize HD camcorder functions in handsets. Some market watchers doubt they will. "If that's true," McGregor countered, "Apple's iPhone is doomed."

IP reuse
The precise timetable for HD camcorder phones is almost irrelevant to Broadcom. More important has been the company's well-executed IP reuse strategy, McGregor said. "Our job is choosing technologies that are related and making sure that there is an R&D infrastructure that supports the reuse of IPs," he added.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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