Broadcom targets 2014 as sweet spot for LTE smartphones

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BARCELONA, Spain--Broadcom thinks that 2014 will be the year it will be able to bring together the key components of its chipset portfolio--applications processor, advanced LTE modem and its newest combo chip--and integrate them into a solution for high-end smartphones, according to a company executive.

Broadcom, once best known for its combo chips integrating Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, near field communications and FM, has been making waves recently on the LTE front and has indicated that it has ambitions to challenge market leader Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) in the LTE baseband and applications processor markets.

In an interview with FierceWireless at the Mobile World Congress trade show, Bob Rango, executive vice president of Broadcom's mobile and wireless group, said that the silicon vendor is targeting next year to get into the highest end of the smartphone market. Currently, Broadcom's SOC solutions power lower-end devices like the Samsung Electronics Galaxy S II Plus, with dual-core 1.2 GHz application processor support for HSPA+21 and Broadcom's combo chip.

Broadcom's plans for LTE are a big part of the reason it is being conservative about when it will achieve its aspiration to play more heavily in the high-end smartphone market. Earlier this month Broadcom announced its intention to enter the LTE modem market with a chip the company boasted as one of the world's smallest, fastest and most capable. The new 28 nm chip, the BCM21892, will support LTE Advanced network technology and will take up 35 percent less space than competing products. Broadcom said the chip will support LTE "Category 4" speeds of up to 150 Mbps as well as wireless transmission technologies ranging from LTE FDD and TDD to HSPA+, TD-SCDMA and EDGE/GSM.

Rango said Broadcom is sampling the chip now to real customers and expects to ship products in 2014. Rango said the reason for the delay is that many carriers have not yet introduced LTE Advanced, with features such as carrier aggregation, and won't do so on a large scale until 2014. "We plan to be in trials in with the carriers as they roll these features out," he said.

Another key piece of the puzzle is Broadcom's evolution on apps processors. In January, ARM Holdings and Broadcom announced that Broadcom licensed the ARMv7 and ARMv8 architectures, which will enable Broadcom to develop and build its own processors based on the ARM architecture. Rango indicated that Broadcom will use those architectures for future smartphone chip designs, which he said will be able to be right behind high-end tablets in terms of performance. "Our plan is to be able to offer processors up to that level and that [with] any phone that gets built, our application processor is competitive," he said.   

What sets Broadcom apart in mobile from the likes of Nvidia and MediaTek is that Broadcom has a history of delivering modems on a massive scale and can bring together multiple elements, including an apps processor, modem and combo chip. "That complete platform is important because over the course of the next couple of years all of the wireless technologies will integrate," he said.

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