June Wireless UpdateBy
Guest Blog by Will Strauss, President & Principal Analyst, Forward Concepts
NVIDIA’s Icera Purchase Changes the Cellular Chip Landscape
As I suggested in my November 3, 2010 newsletter, graphics leader NVIDIA has purchased Icera Semiconductor for $375 million in cash. I personally think that was a bargain price for Nvidia, since the acquisition now puts it on a level that could rival Qualcomm, Intel and ST-Ericsson in the fast-growing LTE cellphone chip market. Nvidia’s Tegra 2 has been successful in the smartphone and tablet application processor marketplace and Icera’s upcoming E410 LTE baseband/RF platform is the only chipset besides Qualcomm’s that has demonstrated integrated 2G/3G/4G with tri-mode handover. The Icera multimode LTE baseband chip has been the only alternative to Qualcomm for test equipment and operator reference user equipment (UE) for their own multimode verification.
Already the major alternative to Qualcomm in chips for 3G USB dongles and shipping in their first (3G Android) handset (See my March 2nd Newsletter), Icera has been very aggressive. With NVIDIA’s multi-billion-dollar financial muscle behind it, the worthy Icera solution should now have a strong reception among tier-one handset makers.
Some naysayers say that it’s an insufficient purchase to assure a strong cellular market position, arguing that the pairing doesn’t include ancillary chips like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, etc. Actually the “combo” chip market that includes combinations of these marches to a different drummer, since Bluetooth and Wi-Fi continue evolving with new versions out every few months and NFC is in its infancy (at least outside of Japan). Consequently, it makes little sense to integrate any of these into a stable baseband chip, and leaves room for companies like Broadcom, CSR and Texas Instruments to work with Nvidia on specific handsets and tablets. One could argue that GPS is stable, but newer chips are adding GLONASS and (perhaps soon) Galileo capability.
Antcor: New 4G Stack Provider
Sometimes Greeks bear gifts worth having. Athens-based Antcor S.A. has ambitious plans to provide LTE stacks from Level 1 (the PHY) and Level 2 and higher. Founded in 2004 by former Atmel employees, the company began providing software for the wireless ISP market and later participated in WiMAX projects. Although consisting of only 12 people (all with advanced degrees), the company has completed an LTE baseband simulation framework along with a DSP optimized C code and plans to provide implementation for higher protocol layers (L2/L3). Unlike UE stack vendors like SySDSoft (now owned by Intel) and 4M Wireless that address the handset market, Antcor is addressing LTE base stations, a market currently addressed by Continuous Computing (being acquired by RadiSys), ArrayComm and mimoOn. Antcor is currently working with baseband chip vendors and plans to release Level 2 & 3 stacks next quarter.
Embedded Vision Alliance: A New Concept
Yesterday, a dozen major companies announced the formation of a new alliance, dedicated to the concept that machines need to see and understand their environments and referred to as embedded vision. The poster child for the concept is probably the Microsoft Kinect, which added vision to the Xbox 360 and became the fastest-selling (non-mobile) consumer electronics device in history, shipping more than 10 million units in 5 months. The Embedded Vision Alliance (www.embedded-vision.com) was initiated by our colleagues at Berkeley Design Technology Inc. and already includes founding members Analog Devices, Apical Imaging, Avnet, CEVA, CogniVue, Freescale, IMS Research, National Instruments, NVIDIA, Texas Instruments, Tokyo Electron Device, The MathWorks, Xilinx and XMOS.
The Alliance is dedicated to the concept that incorporating vision capabilities into future products will bring dramatic benefits to users and thus provides high-growth opportunities in consumer, medical, automotive, entertainment, industrial, and retail markets. Unlike the markets for video compression, which are already standards-based, the Alliance will address systems that extract meaning from video a realm that presently has few standards.
Adapteva Massively Parallel CPU Introduced
At the recent Embedded Systems Conference, we were introduced to a new RISC-based multicore processor created by a former key designer of Analog Devices’ TigerSHARC DSP chip, the first processor to enable software programmable 3G and WiMAX base station platforms and was the most energy efficient floating point microprocessor in the world at the time of its release. Adapteva, Inc. has introduced its “Epiphany” microprocessor architecture, a scalable shared memory architecture, featuring from 4 to 4,096 processors on a single chip connected through a high-bandwidth on-chip network. Each processor node represents a fully-featured 32-bit floating point RISC processor built from scratch for multicore processing, a high bandwidth local memory system, and an extensive set of built-in hardware features for multicore communication. Adapteva’s low-power design and standard ANSI-C programming model is ultimately aimed at tablets and smartphones. However, the company’s initial product is the less-ambitious Anemone™ co-processor for FPGAs which provides 16 independent RISC cores, available from BittWare, Inc. on standard boards (BittWare has long been a supplier of board products based on Analog Devices DSPs paired with FPGAs).
Updated LTE Baseband List
In my May newsletter, I listed announced and available LTE baseband chips, but we overlooked a few. So, in addition to the 11 we listed earlier, here are the others:
- GCT Semiconductor: GDM7240 RF with LGE’s L2000 baseband in volume production for Verizon LTE USB dongles
- HiSilicon: Shipping in Vodafone B1000 router, sampling in Option LTE USB dongles
- Icera: E410 chipset is sampling and is one of only one besides Qualcomm that has demonstrated multimode 4G/3G/2G handover
- Innofidei: China-based supplier of first TD-LTE basebands for 20MHz bandwidth, employed in ZTE USB dongles
- Leadcore Technology: The China-based subsidiary of Datang offers the LC1760 device which can automatically switch between TD-LTE and TD-SCDMA.
- LGE: L2000 single-mode LTE baseband shipping in Germany’s Turbobox and Verizon-brand USB dongles (paired with Qualcomm’s MSM6800A)
- Motorola: Shipping in the Droid Bionic handset and XOOM tablet, though LTE software is still a work in progress
- NTT DoCoMo LTE Licensees: Fujitsu, Panasonic & Renesas (based on Tensilica DSP cores); Now in Japan field trials.
- ST-Ericsson: Thor M7400 LTE/HSPA+ modem sampling this quarter.
- ZTE: Providing no details, the company claims it will offer its own LTE chipset in 2011.
If you have better information on any of these or other LTE chips, I’d love to hear from you.
As always, I invite your comments.