Forward Concepts Wireless/DSP Newsletter 3-12-2013

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Cadence Design to buy Tensilica

Yesterday, Cadence Design Systems announced plans to purchase privately held Tensilica Inc. for $380 million cash. The deal gives San Jose-based Cadence a larger portfolio of chip intellectual property so that its customers can create chips for mobile wireless, network infrastructure, car electronics, and home consumer electronics. It presents a new market thrust for Cadence, which is not known for aggressive IP licensing of MCU or DSP cores. However, Tensilica's 35% annual growth for the past two years was too appealing to ignore.

Tensilica, founded by Dr. Chris Rowen, has more than 200 licensees, including seven of the top 10 chip companies. Those customers have shipped more than 2 billion cores in their chips. Although best known for its "dataplane" cores (read: RISC applied to communications), the bulk of Tensilica's revenues are from DSP implementations…with Audience as a major licensee in noise-cancellation chips, employed in the iPhone4S and more recently in Samsung cellphones. Tensilica also receives royalties from licensing for infrastructure, including network processors for Cisco. In LTE modems, Tensilica's baseband chips are in Fujitsu modems, Huawei's new Ascend P2 smartphone and in Intel's announced XMM7160 LTE modem.

Huawei Develops own Multimode LTE Modem

Although not emphasizing its chip content, at MWC Huawei showcased its LTE Ascend P2 smartphone, billed as "The fastest smartphone in the world" (but they said the same thing about the non-LTE Ascend P1 last year). However, DSP licensor Tensilica was justifiably proud that the handset's multimode LTE Cat 4 modem is based on its technology. It's unknown if Huawei will choose to sell its modem chip set separately.

MWC: Logistic Nightmare

I hinted at the Barcelona Metro problems to come at the Mobile World Congress, but it was even worse than anyone expected. Sure, the Metro ran on schedule every morning and afternoon with adequate accommodation of the additional MWC passengers. However, a transfer to the train (not owned by the Metro) at Plaza Espanya to the Europa station near the new Fira Gran Via venue proved to be a total bottleneck. With a good portion of the 70,000 attendees trying to make their first 9:00 AM appointment, the train(s) proved to be inadequate both in passenger accommodations and scheduling. The problem was so great that many of us were herded on to waiting busses at the old Fira venue outside of Espanya station. Unfortunately, those busses were universally caught in street traffic jams, compounding the problem, shredding early appointment schedules. So, the next day, I rushed pass the bus herders directly to the train, where I was forced to be crowded on like a Tokyo subway at rush hour. In fact, I stood on the train with hundreds of others, unable to move for 12 minutes before the train would even leave the station for another slow 12-minute ride. Apparently there's only a single track at some point and the train could not leave the station until another arrived. So a 12-minute commute from Catalunya station (the center of Barcelona) to the old Fira changed to a one-hour commute to the new Fira…each way.

Then, there's the size of the new venue. It takes fully 15 minutes to walk from Hall 2 (where most private meetings were held) to Hall 8.1 (which seemed to be somewhere close to Andorra). And that's when there's no traffic or people blocking the several moving walkways as their personal rest areas. Trying to get to appointments between, say Hall 7 (where many of the semiconductor exhibitors were) to Hall 3 (where all the big companies like Intel and Qualcomm were) and back again, proved to be too much for my dress shoes resulting in a blister. Luckily, I brought my New Balance runners for the rest of the week. I apologize to those three companies whose appointments I totally missed. The good news: when it rains, all your appointments are indoors. The bad news: when it rains, you still have 3 blocks to walk to or from the train (as it did on Thursday, with the strong wind demolishing umbrellas). So, now you're forewarned for next year!

Most Impressive LTE Modem Demos at MWC

There are many things to see at MWC, with halls full of gamers and games; all manner of software and services for networks and cellphones and every glitzy gadget you can imagine. But my primary focus was on LTE modems, application processors and RF chips. Of course, Qualcomm showcased its Snapdragon 600 and 800 com-processor chip families announced at CES, so the anticipation was for what other LTE products would be demoed. At least 8 LTE modem makers had either stands, meeting rooms or both. But the ones that impressed me most were:

-Nvidia impressed me with its Tegra 4i, perhaps one of only two LTE com-processors on a single die (and demonstrated in a real cellphone at the show)…and with its associated RF transceiver. We know that Renesas Mobile's announced MP6530 is on a single die, but we don't know if Qualcomm has a single-die LTE solution, since the company is totally ambiguous in calling all of its stacked-die products as "single-chip" solutions. So, it's possible that Nvidia has the second single-die LTE modem/apps processor solution on the market (I'm sure QCOM will let me know if otherwise).

-Marvell surprised me with its new PXA1801 "Worldphone" multimode Cat 4 FDD-LTE, TDD-LTE, HSPA+, TD-SCDMA, and EDGE modem. It was a surprise because they announced their PXA1088 TD-SCDMA/WCDMA/EDGE "Worldphone" just a week or so before MWC (so that was a fast "Worldphone" replacement). Marvell also has its own diversity RF transceiver and PMIC. They also provide their PXA2128 dual-core apps processor as a separate chip. The chips are now sampling and Marvell expects AT&T modem certification in Q2/13 (see certification comments, below).

-ST-Ericsson argued that it had the highest-performance application processor to go with its low-power CAT 4 LTE-A modem, and they made a good case for that. They demonstrated what they billed as "the first and only 3GHz smartphone processor" as well as the first and only 1GHz smartphone processor running at 0.6 Volts. They also claimed to have "the first and only demonstration of VoLTE talk-time on par with 3G voice." But more importantly, they claim the world's smartest carrier aggregation with a single-die RF transceiver with Rx diversity and MIMO capability. The company claims to be sampling now (more on ST-E below).

-Renesas Mobile demonstrated its MP6530 complete Cat 4 LTE platform, also with associated RF transceiver. I profiled its capabilities in my January newsletter. Their LTE modem is already certified by both AT&T and NTT DoCoMo. A trusted source of mine indicates that Renesas' LTE modem is being employed by Samsung…obviously a major customer win if true.

-Broadcom showcased its new BCM21892 LTE-A Cat 4 modem chip with associated RF transceiver in the same package. The company was proud of their modem's carrier aggregation capability and their RF transceiver's envelope tracking. I provided more details in my last newsletter.

Bragging about Verizon's LTE Certification: No Big Deal

Every company that has a single-mode FDD LTE modem tends to carpet-bomb the blogosphere with the news that "Verizon has certified its modem," as if they have finally arrived. It's too bad that no Verizon cellphone will ever employ most of those modems. The reason is simple; they have no 2G or 3G capability. For Verizon, that has to come from one of the only two CDMA modem houses: Qualcomm or Via Telecom.


Certainly, Qualcomm has had no problems with fielding cellphones using its CDMA-capable Snapdragon chips and Samsung has managed to clamp its original single-mode LTE modem with a Via Telecom CDMA modem for several handsets. However, the opportunities for other handsets to pair another brand of LTE modems for a Verizon-centric handset are few. That leaves tablets, WiMAX-like and M2M implementations as their major market opportunities.

What is a big deal is LTE certification with AT&T! That's where your modem must have to offer the complete 4G/LTE/3G/2G capability (OK, so 2G will go away for AT&T after 2017). Most of those single-mode LTE houses are a long way from AT&T certification.

Intel LTE Modem: Still a Work in Progress

Intel is proud of its Verizon LTE certification and even prouder of its top ranking in Signals Ahead (by Michael Thelander's Signals Research Group) recent performance analysis of 8 pre-commercial and commercial LTE modems. However, Intel admits that they are a year late and insist that their LTE modems will be shipping "in the second half." Of course, December 31st is still in the second half. A rumor is that Intel is close to purchasing the Motorola Mobility circuit design group from Google. If true, Intel will be doubling down on its wireless future.

With a new CEO to be announced by Intel in another 3 weeks, speculation around MWC was that the new CEO could possibly be Herman Eul or Mike Bell (VPs and co-General Managers of the Wireless Communications Group), but the bets were on someone more closely associated with Intel's manufacturing capability, Intel's historical strength.

ST-Ericsson Continues to Disappoint

This week has seen the resignation of ST-Ericsson's CEO, Didier Lamouche. Perhaps he was tired of beating an ailing horse. The company is still bleeding money. For Q4 of 2012, ST-E had a loss of $133m on sales of $358m. If the company can both deliver the new products (NovaThor) and improve their finances, they have a chance for a comeback in the cellphone chip business; otherwise, they are toast. ST Microelectronics appears to be dumping their share of the joint-venture company, leaving Ericsson to pick up the pieces.

LTE Wireless Training:

My colleague Peter Rysavy is one of the smartest wireless people I know and he can present technology in understandable terms. Peter is offering a new one-day course, 4G: Deep Technology Insights, on April 12 in Bellevue/Redmond, WA. The price is very modest and your time will be well spent if you can attend. Details are at www.rysavy.com/training.html .

Shameless Plug:

imgJust published: To provide product and market planners with calibration on the market Forward Concepts is offering its new "Cellphone & Tablet Core Chip Markets '13" an extensive (330-page) market study that covers the core integrated circuits that enable cellphones and media tablets. In this study, we don't just track basebands & application processors, we also track and forecast RF transceivers, power amplifiers, and power management units in great detail. The report provides 2012 vendor market shares for each of these chip types and forecasts units, ASPs & revenues for all of them in detail through 2017. In addition, Smartphones and operating system shipments are also covered. This study explores the dynamics of the entire market, from GSM through LTE-A. We forecast the cellular digital processor market in major categories:

  • Stand-alone Digital Baseband processors,
  • Stand-alone Application Processors
  • Communication Processors with apps processors + baseband in same package
  • Ultra-Low-Cost (ULC) basebands with RF transceivers on the same die.
  • RF Transceivers: The key to multi-band LTE; some with integral DSP

We believe that there is no other cellphone chip market study available that has the breadth or depth of coverage of this one. Shipped as PDF only (with enterprise-wide license), price: $4,500.00. Check the website to get an idea of the full extent of this valuable study and all of the components and companies covered: www.fwdconcepts.com/cellchiptab13

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As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss

President & Principal Analyst

Forward Concepts

wis@fwdconcepts.com