Beceem taking cue from Qualcomm in WiMAX chip business

Qualcomm has given the industry a nice blueprint when it comes to becoming the dominant supplier of CDMA and WCDMA chips in the industry. It's a blueprint that WiMAX chip vendor Beceem appears to be emulating, although minus the hefty intellectual property ownership.

Like Qualcomm, Beceem is working hard to stay ahead of the market when it comes to releasing generations of chipsets, giving device vendors no choice but to use the company's chipsets as a stopgap measure before they can come up to par with their own--if ever. Sound familiar? 

To wit, Beceem is poised to sample its fourth-generation solution later this year--a feat that is far ahead of any WiMAX chip competitor in the market. As such, major device manufacturers Motorola and Samsung--two main suppliers for Sprint Nextel's WiMAX rollout that want to develop their own chipsets--have made agreements with Beceem. In March, Beceem announced that Motorola selected the company's MS120 mobile WiMAX chipset for use in certain models of its first-generation WiMAX customer premise equipment (CPE) and Beceem-supplied PCMCIA cards. Samsung selected Beceem in February as one of its major mobile WiMAX chipset suppliers, while Sanyo chose Beceem's BCS200 chipset as the foundation for its entry into the mobile WiMAX handset market.

"We've been field testing for 18 months, while most of the other WiMAX chip companies are now getting out in the field," David Patterson, vice president of marketing with Beceem, said in an interview. "We took the approach that we wanted to get out in the field as fast as possible so we could learn about OFDMA."

Beceem also took a cue from successful chip vendors in the mobile world. Early on, the company came to market with the strategy of providing both baseband and RF for mobile WiMAX. All of the chip companies left standing in the GSM, CDMA and WCDMA markets are those that have both the baseband and the RF.

Indeed, the WiMAX chip market could very well repeat history. Manufacturers in both the GSM and CDMA world embarked on their own chip strategies early on, only to spin off their chip efforts or abandon them entirely as companies with a single focus on developing chips began to dominate, especially in the more complex CDMA world. OFDMA is just as--if not more--complex than CDMA. Beceem could be a mighty beneficiary.

I would wager that once Qualcomm sees a significant market for WiMAX (it already acquired TeleCIS Wireless' system-on-a-chip engineering assets for OFDMA), Beceem will be a prime target. After all, Qualcomm is extremely familiar with Beceem's go-to-market strategy.--Lynnette