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Shift in China's mobile market threatens U.S. chip companies

Posted: 20 Jan 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile market? LTE? China Mobile? base bands? Wi-Fi?

What about Wi-Fi and Bluetooth?

Thus far, Chinese fabless chip vendors active in smartphone and tablet markets have focused only on the development of apps processors. Absent from their portfolios are connectivity solutions such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

But that's about to change, according to Eran Briman, vice president of marketing at Ceva, a leading DSP-based IP platform licensor. Actions Semiconductor, Rockchip, Allwinner and Spreadtrum in China all want connectivity solutions that can go inside mobile and wearable devices, he explained.

For Ceva, whose royalties continue to come from shipment of 3G and LTE local smartphones in China, the game-changer is last year's acquisition of RivieraWaves, which was a privately held Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity IP vendor based in Sophia-Antipolis, France. Briman said that Ceva is expecting non-base band royalties to start flowing as early as this year [2015] and growing at a steady pace through 2018.

Many in the industry who regarded Bluetooth chips as a dime a dozen were caught by surprise when they saw a growing number of activities around licensing and acquisition of Bluetooth Low Energy technology. "Bluetooth Low Energy has changed the landscape," said Briman.

Now, many apps processor vendors in China are eager to develop connectivity solutions of their own to offer to Chinese OEMs/ODMs by licensing IP core from Ceva, according to Briman.

Beyond 802.11ac and Bluetooth Low Energy, other connectivity IPs Ceva hopes to license, based on RivieraWaves' wireless connectivity IP development activities, include 802.11ah (using sub 1GHz licence-exempt bands to provide extended-range Wi-Fi networks), 802.11p (vehicle-to-vehicle communication for automotive) and future versions of Bluetooth.

For U.S. chip giants like Broadcom, who cracked the smartphone market by selling such connectivity solutions as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, this may spell trouble in the future.

Asked about the possible threat, Broadcom CEO Scott McGregor downplayed its gravity: "There are big differences between the best and almost the best... or not at all the best. I think people want to have the best technologies in these spaces. You need that to win specs, market values, and there are a lot of features you enable with these products."

To be fair, Wi-Fi has been a product of constantly evolving technologies. Broadcom has always been early to the market, grabbing the lion's share by essentially offering a newly advanced product even before the new spec is finalised. It's hard to top Broadcom's technology prowess when it comes to connectivity.

However, Broadcom had to exit its LTE modem business in the smartphone market largely because of Qualcomm's unyielding dominance and Chinese fabless companies who "had imperatives to be in that business at all costs," as McGregor described. It remains to be seen if something similar could happen to connectivity chips in the mobile device market.

- Junko Yoshida
??EE Times

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