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Spreadtrum moves into WCDMA market

Posted: 19 Sep 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:fabless firm? WCDMA? TD-SCDMA?

Move to WCDMA
CFO Gao said Spreadtrum will roll out its WCDMA chip during the fourth quarter.

Spreadtrum's 2011 acquisition of MobilePeak, a privately held fabless company based here and in San Diego, has allowed it to make inroads in the WCDMA market. MobilePeak, founded by a former Qualcomm senior vice president of engineering, specialized in the design of highly integrated UMTS/HSPA+ modem chip sets.

Gao described MobilePeak as "a company made for us." MobilePeak offered Spreadtrum a "very efficient and clean design structure," she added, while the company's location made it easier for Spreadtrum to absorb MobilePeak's Shanghai team into the top floors of Spreadtrum's headquarters located in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park.

Asked if Qualcomm will offer a WCDMA chip integrated with a TD-SCDMA baseband, Gao replied that "a multistandard baseband is not necessary," because the WCDMA-equipped phones are expected to ship overseas and to China Unicom, where TD-SCDMA is not deployed.

Gao also downplayed the WCDMA market as a must-win for the company, arguing, "Don't underestimate the importance of the TD-SCDMA market for China Mobile, which has close to 700 million subscribers. That is as big as both the U.S. and European mobile phone subscribers combined."

Another challenge for Spreadtrum is its smartphone strategy. It introduced a highly integrated, low-power platform for TD-SCDMA mainstream smartphone this year. Designed with a 40-nm CMOS process, a single Cortex A5 1GHz processor that runs both Android for applications and the RTOS of baseband (supporting multimode TD-HSPA/TD SCDMA/Edge/GPRS/GSM). The chip's ability to switch between baseband and applications processing functions is viewed as a smart move to bring down the cost of a smartphone platform. While some question how powerful the single core's performance may be, both K-Touch and Haier in China have announced adoption of Spreadtrum's new smartphone platform.

On the other hand, critics wonder whether Spreadtrum will ever outgrow its feature phone mentality, to effectively attack the higher-end smartphone market with its combined baseband/apps chip.

Battle for turnkey solutions
The smartphone battle in China will turn on how well system chip vendors can develop a turnkey system for OEMs/ODMs. MediaTek wrote the playbook, and most everyone is following suit, including Spreadtrum.

In its early days, Gao said Spreadtrum developed not just a reference design but also a complete pc-board with Spreadtrum's baseband chip, just to earn a tryout from phone companies who were initially leery of Spreadtrum's baseband chips.

But that means the burden of software development and integration of more components is falling on the shoulders of a chip company.


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