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TI's baseband strategy, a good call?

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile processor? baseband technology? wireless connectivity?

Texas Instruments Inc. is aggressive in pushing forward its OMAP mobile processor. Some people believe that the company's strategy of pushing OMAP and at the same time phasing out its baseband segment could be a wrong move.

While competing silicon vendors have rushed to integrate baseband onto their chips, TI has shied away from doing so, calling it a mere "distraction" and proclaiming itself glad to no longer be dealing with the connectivity side of the business.

"TI made a strategic decision in 2008 to phase out of the baseband segment and focus on two key wireless growth areas: OMAP processors and wireless connectivity solutions," said the TI's director of strategic marketing, Avner Goren, when confronted with the question.

"We continue to see proof that this was the right decision, especially as multimedia capabilities are innovating at twice the pace of access technology," he said, adding that this was especially true with the sheer pace of innovation in the industry, which he claimed mandated a more�discrete approach in order to facilitate faster time-to-market.

Indeed, while new application processors tend to tape out every nine to 12 months, new modems are on a slower cycle of 12 to 18 months, though LTE-Advanced may close the gap a little. Currently, however, this is typically the reason argued for keeping modems and processors on separate dice.

On the other hand, mobile chip giant Qualcomm, which does integrate modems onto its Snapdragon processors, has managed to keep pace with its rivals, largely debunking the naysayers.

Instead of integrating its own baseband technology, TI says it supports a range of access technologies which Goren claims allows the firm to integrate its platform with multiple standards from modem suppliers or OEMs with proprietary offerings.

Goren added that TI was also pushing chip-to-chip (C2C) interface technology which allows the removal of the modem DDR, purportedly resulting in memory cost and PCB footprint savings.

"We license C2C to major modem vendors, and have partnered with Arteris to widely deploy it," he said, noting that TI had also actively supported the MIPI Alliance's standardization of the Low Latency Interface (LLI), targeted for OMAP 5 integration.

While Goren's defense seems solid on the surface, however, analysts in the space have cast doubt over TI's dismissal of baseband.

Analyst Will Strauss of Forward Concepts believes Goren is simply "towing the party line," and that while it's certainly true that modems and application processors are on different road maps, integration of the two is a growing trend, especially in terms of cheaper, lower-end phones.

Analyst Jim McGregor of In-Stat agreed, saying that not only would it be cheaper and less of a battery drain, but that Moore's law actually facilitated it.

"TI's argument doesn't hold water, because it's not a question of 'if' baseband should be integrated onto the chip, but when," McGregor�said. "If you're going to be playing in the smartphone market, you need baseband."

How the chips stack up
While it's true that some devices don't necessarily need cellular connectivity today, McGregor posited that as carriers began to think more in the direction of pooled data plans to connect up all of a person's devices, that tenet would become less true.

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