Forward Concepts Wireless/DSP Newsletter 10-18-2013

CEVA Introduces Vector Floating-Point DSP Core

Addressing the wireless infrastructure modem chip market, rather than the handset chip market, CEVA has introduced theCEVA XC4500 DSP core, which they claim to be "the world’s first vector floating-point DSP specifically designed for advanced wireless infrastructure solutions." The new core incorporates a range of features squarely aimed at infrastructure applications, including a baseband-dedicated instruction set architecture (ISA), IEEE-compliant floating point support on full vector elements delivering up to 40 GFLOPs performance, comprehensive multi-core support, a fully cached architecture and hardware managed coherency.

Unlike wireless handsets, where asymmetric processing systems are pre-configured and optimized for specific use-cases (often employing more than one type of DSP core), wireless infrastructure typically employs Symmetric Multiprocessing (SMP) through many similar cores, which the XC4500 directly accommodates. Of course, hardware accelerators (for turbocoding, etc.) are supported by CEVA's Tightly Coupled Extensions (TCE). It is also noted that CEVA has collaborated closely with ARM to ensure comprehensive support for their latest industry-standard interconnect and coherency protocols, enabling their mutual customers to leverage the inherent advantages of designing ARM + CEVA-XC multi-core SoCs.

CEVA asserts that the new architecture enables customers to address any wireless infrastructure use case, including baseband for small cells (Pico, Metro) to macro base stations and cloud RAN (C-RAN), Wi-Fi offloading, wireless backhaul, and remote radio heads. CEVA has already licensed the XC4500 to an un-named Tier-1 vendor, so we'll have to guess who for now.

Qualcomm Continues as The DSP Market Leader

DSP chips from TI, Freescale, ADI, NEC and a few others constitute only about 8% of the “DSP silicon” market in revenue terms, as I have detailed in earlier newsletters. The largest market for DSP silicon is as embedded solutions, generally thought of as System on Chip (SoC) products. Of that SoC DSP market, cellphones constitute the largest segment, with baseband modem chips being the most significant. 

All baseband chips consist of one or more DSP cores. Qualcomm, the clear baseband market leader, has long employedtwo DSP cores in each of its MSM modem chips, and of late is shipping three or more of its latest Hexagon DSP cores in its Snapdragon chips.  In calendar year 2012, Qualcomm shipped 616 million MSM (modem) chips and this year is on track to deliver over 700 million MSM chips. We estimate that an average of 2.3 of its DSP cores in each unit will result in1.6 billion DSPs shipped in silicon in 2013. Clearly, Qualcomm continues to lead the global unit market for DSP silicon shipments.

Broadcom Licenses In-Building Location IP

Clearly, in-building GPS is getting a lot of attention these days. Many of the methods I've seen involve distributed Wi-Fi pilots or beacons, but Broadcom has opted to develop in-building GPS that can simply employ modifications to its current GPS/GNSS chips. To accomplish that, the company is licensing IP from NextNav LLP.  NextNav is approaching the positioning problem in two ways. To enable far more accurate E911 service in urban areas and a better degree of indoor coverage, it is fielding its own terrestrial metropolitan beacon system which operates at a much lower frequency (960 MHz) than conventional GNSS systems, providing better through-wall penetration. From a DSP standpoint, the NextNav signals simply look like another GNSS constellation. For campus, mall or warehouse implementations the company fieldssmall NextNav Local beacons strategically located throughout the facility.

For vertical floor-level accuracy, necessary in tall buildings, Broadcom will couple barometric sensors to its GNSS chips. NextNav's network will provide real-time weather calibration in each metro area to enable 1.5m vertical accuracy. Otherwise, daily barometric pressure changes could result in up to 200-ft errors, sending first responders to the wrong floor.  We expect Broadcom's new GNSS solution will be shipping in cellphones by mid-2015.

Update on Renesas Mobile and Intel LTE Modems

We now know that Renesas Mobile actually secured a "Tier-1" LTE modem socket.  Renesas' model EOS2 (MP5232) LTE modem is said to be currently shipping in LTE versions of Samsung's Tab 3 7.0" tablet (for some geographic markets).  Of course, Broadcom will be the beneficiary of the socket.

It should also be noted that Intel's XMM7160 multimode LTE modem is in cellular versions of Samsung's Tab 3 10.0 tablet.  Samsung also has its own multimode LTE modem chip, so it's a bit of a mystery as to how the company picks which LTE modem to use in each socket.

More Windows Phone 8 Players

Although there are a number of Android fanboys who wish Nokia would join their crowd, presently dominated bySamsung, there appears to be increasing traction building for Windows Phone 8, with Huawei, ZTE and even re-emergingHP adopting it (along with hesitant HTC).

I've also noticed that Apple and others have now followed Nokia's multi-color cellphone lead, so clearly Nokia really does have new market ideas.

Nokia has also introduced a $29 cellphone, shipping this quarter. The Nokia 108 feature phone has everything you need for talking and texting, with a colorful, attractive design, a 1.8-inch color display and a VGA camera for picture and video.  It also features Nokia Slam, an app that allows you to share photos via Bluetooth with many different Android and Windows phones. True to Nokia's multi-color trend it features several brightly colored matte plastic shells.

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As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss

President & Principal Analyst

Forward Concepts