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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?

"There will always be room for a standalone OMAP4 or 5, but the number of standalone sockets will likely not grow as fast as the integrated pair numbers," agreed Strauss, adding that while the integration trend lay more at the low-end of the smartphone spectrum, Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 processor with inbuilt LTE modem would more than match up to OMAP5-level capability.

"No matter how good OMAP is, there will always be competitors that are in the same "horsepower" category on the same die with the modem," Strauss said.

Interestingly, said Strauss, the "modem being a distraction" was Intel's mantra back when the firm was pushing StrongArm apps processors with a modem acquired from DSP Communications. When this initiative failed, after a billion dollars or so worth of investment, Intel sold the pair to Marvell for $600 milliona fraction of the $1.7 billion it had acquired DSPC for.

Seeming to regret that decision several years later, Intel bought Infineon's wireless business for $1.4 billion last year.

Similarly, Nvidia paid $367 million for modem chipset maker Icera, A U.K.-based firm with more than 550 patents granted or pending, and product approval from over 50 carriers across the globe, while Renesas acquired Nokia's baseband technology, saying it planned a major thrust into the LTE market.

The market for baseband processors is one of the fastest growing segments of the technology industry, worth an estimated $15 billion a year, according to market watchers.

"TI could always partner up with a player like Mediatek, or one of the big Asian carriers who has patents in the arealike Japan's NTT Docomobut the market for acquisitions is getting pretty slim," said McGregor explaining that after the major acquisition spree last year, most remaining baseband chip makers had been snapped up. "The only one possibly left is Sequans," he said.

"Then again, there's going to be some sort of fallout in the mobile market over the next couple of years," said McGregor. "There are currently 24 vendors targeting handsets and there's only really room for about 4. When that consolidation happens, there will be assets up for grabs," he said.

Thus, while TI is certainly moving forward very competitively with Omap, and will be first to market with an A15 chip targeting the high-end where baseband integration is currently less important, the firm may have to re-evaluate as the lower-end integration trend comes more into play. Especially as combo chips like Qualcomm's upcoming 8960 make their way to market sporting not just 3G but TDD FDD LTE, WiFi and Bluetooth to boot.

"It's certainly going to make things harder for TI, not having baseband going forward, because it is a differentiator for handsets," McGregor concluded.

- Sylvie Barak
??EE Times

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