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Analyst expects more 3G baseband tie-ups

Posted: 08 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3G baseband? HSPA? UMTS?

Further consolidation is expected among suppliers of UMTS/HSPA baseband chips. However, the possibilities are limited with Infineon Technologies AG and Icera Inc. now the only independent sources for the parts, aside from Qualcomm, following the pending merger between NXP Semiconductors and STMicroelectronics and Ericsson Mobile Platforms (EMP), according to market research analyst Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts.

Strauss said Freescale Semiconductor may soon have a complete UMTS/HSPA solution (different from Motorola).

Strong collaboration
He was commenting on the machinations of the acquisitions between the three European chip groups, with EMP being the wireless chip subsidiary of LM Ericsson.

If consolidation were on the cards, Strauss suggested Icera would be a good acquisition target for Texas Instruments Inc., if it wanted its own non-Nokia UMTS/HSPA baseband and RF immediately, or maybe even Intel, if the microprocessor giant wants to get back into cellular with its Atom-based Mobile Internet Devices.

He noted that Apple Inc. employs Infineon's UMTS/HSPA baseband and RF transceiver chips in the 3G iPhone and Infineon's EDGE baseband and RF chips are in the original iPhone. "If Steve Jobs is happy with the arrangement, Apple is probably not interested in Icera. But, Icera and its VC backers would rather float an IPO, anyway," noted Strauss.

However, earlier reports claimed, the venture capital backed fabless chip company has delayed a planned initial public offering of shares until around 2010, while it plans to raise more private money to fund its push into the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) communications standard.

Strauss also asked the real synergism in the proposed conglomeration between NXP/ST and EMP.

3G applications
He cited that, "In 3G software, from the UMTS/HSPA side, the resulting management team will have to decide whether to continue with three different software stacks."

He said Nokia's Comnion stack is most likely to be eliminated in new designs, since that is licensed from Infineon. Nokia will probably not allow the new company to sell chips to others based on Nokia's stack, Strauss added, so that leaves EMP's stack as the selection and probably the brains behind future EMP stack development.

In 3G baseband chips, EMP is currently employing licensed CEVA-X DSP cores in its UMTS/HSPA baseband. "ST doesn't have a 3G baseband. "The 400 ASIC designers that ST acquired from Nokia last year are likely to be working on that now," he noted.

NXP has contributed to the new venture its embedded vector processor DSP chip, currently shipping in TD-SCDMA cellphones for China, and slated for HSPA basebands soon. "We've been briefed on the EVP architecture and it appears to be powerful enough for LTE, so we'll bet on it as the one to ride," notes Strauss.

In 3G RF transceivers, ST has long been Nokia's principal supplier, as well as for many other analog chips. "However, it is unclear whether ST's 3G RF transceivers are based on Nokia designs or its own. If based on Nokia design, it is unlikely that Nokia would allow sales to others. Both NXP and EMP contribute their own quad-band 3G RF transceivers, so it will be a toss-up as to which one to employ for future designs."

On the application processor front, Strauss said STMicroelectronics' Nomadik range is well developed, as well as NXP's Nexperia product line. EMP has been using TI's OMAP application processors, and was slated to use advance OMAP3 devices in the future.

"It is likely that the new company will opt for one of its own solutions for future designs. All three families are based on ARM processor cores, so ARM wins," stressed Strauss.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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