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A Guide to Wireless Modem Chips
3G/4G Basebands and Wi-Fi Combos

First Edition

Published January 2013

Authors: J. Scott Gardner, Kevin Krewell and Linley Gwennap

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Pages: 176

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Wireless Connectivity Drives Mobility

Smartphone, tablet, and even laptop PC users want instant access to the Internet—anytime, anyplace, and without wires. Two technologies are the key to this wireless data flow: cellular and Wi-Fi. Cellular data is available almost anywhere, but carriers often restrict the amount of data each user can download. Wi-Fi access is often free and provides unlimited data. Both technologies are becoming ubiquitous in mobile devices.

Cellular-modem chips, also known as thin modems, are paired with application processors in high-end smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy series. They also power USB dongles and data cards that provide cellular access in tablets and laptops. Nearly 500 million thin modems shipped in 2012, with Qualcomm and Intel leading the way. This report covers HSPA, TD-SCDMA, and LTE products from these leading vendors as well as from Altair, Leadcore, Marvell, Nvidia (Icera), Renesas, Sequans, Spreadtrum, and ST-Ericsson.

Wi-Fi technology is evolving from 802.11n to the new 802.11ac standard. It is most often delivered in a combo chip that may also include Bluetooth, FM, GPS, and even NFC. Qualcomm is the first vendor to integrate Wi-Fi into its application processors, an option that we expect to increase in popularity. More than one billion mobile Wi-Fi chips shipped in 2012, a number that we expect to grow to more than 1.6 billion in 2016. This report covers Qualcomm’s integrated Wi-Fi solution as well as mobile Wi-Fi chips from market-leader Broadcom, Marvell, MediaTek, Redpine, and Texas Instruments.

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As the leading vendor of technology analysis for mobile and wireless chips, The Linley Group has the expertise to deliver a comprehensive look at this burgeoning market. Analysts J. Scott Gardner, Kevin Krewell and Linley Gwennap use their extensive experience in the processor market to deliver the technical and strategic information you need to make informed business decisions.

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This report covers both cellular-baseband chips and other wireless connectivity chips, focusing on the wireless “plumbing” that connects mobile devices to the cloud. Generating $20 billion in revenue from shipments of 2.2 billion units in 2012, the cellular-baseband market is vast and growing. This technology is the core of every smartphone as well as a growing number of other mobile devices. We focus on thin modems, which accounted for nearly 500 million cellular-baseband chips in 2012.

Cellular-baseband chips are increasingly matched with other wireless connectivity; almost a billion mobile Wi-Fi chips shipped in 2012, accounting for $3 billion in revenue. By 2015, half of all handsets and all smartphones will include Wi-Fi, so OEMs will favor chip suppliers that can combine multiple wireless connectivity functions (cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM, GPS, and NFC) into fewer components to reduce cost and board area.

For thin modems shipping in 2013, the leading chip suppliers will support mobile devices with LTE Category 4 peak data rates (150Mbps on the downlink and 50Mbps on the uplink). Most of these LTE modems will be multimode devices that implement HSPA+ with downlink speeds of up to 21Mbps (or as high as 42Mbps or even 84Mbps with dual carrier). Qualcomm continues to set the standard: its newest thin modems support CDMA, GSM/EDGE, UMTS (WCDMA/HSPA), TD-SCDMA, and LTE (both TDD and FDD).

Even in mobile devices, 802.11n has become the most common form of Wi-Fi. Some vendors are beginning to offer 802.11ac even before that standard is ratified. We see some bifurcation between 1x1 and 2x2 Wi-Fi chips. The latter offer better range and performance, but only tablets are big enough to support two antennas with adequate separation; smartphones are sticking with the lower-cost 1x1 devices.

Functions such as Bluetooth, FM, GPS, and NFC are often integrated into the Wi-Fi chip to form a combo device; Texas Instruments is already shipping a combo with all five functions. Qualcomm has taken an alternative path, integrating connectivity functions into its baseband processors. We expect other baseband vendors to follow suit, putting pressure on third-party Wi-Fi suppliers such as Broadcom.

Qualcomm is the leading vendor of thin modems, supplying Apple’s iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, among others. It was the first to target data cards and remains the leading supplier in this segment as well. The company is the leader in bringing new cellular protocols to market, including LTE. By integrating Wi-Fi and GPS into its baseband processors, it can offer a complete cellular and connectivity solution that has a lower cost and smaller board area than that of competing third-party solutions.

Since acquiring Infineon’s wireless business, Intel has continued its success in the thin-modem market. Intel supplies Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones, where X-Gold is paired with the Exynos processor. The X‑Gold chips keep system cost low by integrating power management. Intel has been slow to deploy an LTE solution, but it will begin shipping its first LTE chip in 2013.

Broadcom’s business at Apple and Samsung, among others, enabled it to ship over 60% of all Wi-Fi combo chips in 2012. The company has excellent Wi-Fi and GPS technology. The BCM43341 combo will be in production by the beginning of 2013, beating Qualcomm to market with integrated NFC. The company is also pushing ahead with 802.11ac for high-end Wi-Fi devices.

After growing rapidly by serving the low end of the mobile-phone market, MediaTek is now forging into the low-cost smartphone market. Its new four-way Wi-Fi combo chip is well suited to its customers in this market, offering all of the popular connectivity functions at a low cost.

In 2Q13, Marvell expects to ship its newest modem, the PXA1802A, which supports LTE Category 4, HSPA+, and TD-HSPA+. In TDD mode, the PXA1802A delivers China Mobile’s fastest data rates. Marvell will also ship in 2Q13 its newest Wi-Fi combo chip, the Avastar 88W8897, which supports 802.11ac 2x2 with data rates up to 867Mbps.

Nvidia’s cellular technology has been deployed primarily in data applications, but the company is pushing to include it in smartphones, paired with its Tegra application processor. Unfortunately, the current product is limited to 50Mbps, far slower than other LTE chips.

The vastly unprofitable ST-Ericsson is facing a financial crisis that will come to a head in 2013 as STMicroelectronics withdraws its financial support from the joint venture. ST plans to continue providing foundry services, so ST-Ericsson may be able to move into production with its M7400 LTE modems based on 28nm FD-SOI technology. Although its cellular modems provide competitive performance, the company’s Wi-Fi chips lag in both speed and integration.

Texas Instruments will spend 2013 winding down its OMAP and wireless connectivity business in handsets and tablets. The WiLink 8.0 family is a strong product and might be sold to another vendor that serves these mobile customers. It is the sole five-function wireless connectivity chip currently available and is limited only by its lack of an 802.11ac offering.

The mobile-chip business has moved toward a system platform that forces suppliers to offer a complete set of wireless connectivity options if they are to be viable. As semiconductor technology advances and these connectivity options mature, more functions will be integrated, even­tually converging to a single-chip platform.

List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Preface
Executive Summary
1 Mobile Applications
Wireless Handsets
Types of Handsets
Smartphones
Other Mobile Devices
Tablet Computers
Electronic-Book Readers
Navigation Devices
Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Devices
Cellular Modems
2 Mobile Technologies
Cellular Technologies
2G Technologies
2.5G Technologies
3G Technologies
3.5G Technologies
4G Technologies
Connectivity Technologies
Wi-Fi Overview
Wi-Fi 802.11n
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Wi‑Fi Direct
Bluetooth
GPS Overview
GPS Technology
Differential GPS and Assisted GPS
FM
NFC
Coexistence
Coexistence Interfaces
3 Mobile Chip Design
What Is a Wireless Modem Chip?
Cellular-Baseband Processors
Mobile Wi-Fi Chips
What Is Not a Mobile Wi-Fi Chip
Mobile System Design
Sample Designs
Integration Issues
Baseband Subsystem
Wi-Fi Chip Design
High-Level Design
Wi-Fi Implementation
Wi‑Fi Chip Characteristics
Combo-Chip Design
Choosing the Combination
Reuse
Packaging
Standard Interfaces
SPI and UART
USB
MIPI Host Interfaces
4 Market Size and Trends
Target Markets
Market Forecast
Cellular-Modem Applications
Connectivity in Handsets
Other Markets
Market Size and Share
Cellular Chips
Wi-Fi Chips
Market Forecast
Cellular Protocol
Cellular Integration Type
Wi-Fi Integration Type
Wi-Fi Combo Chips by Type
Technology Trends
LTE Baseband Design
Dual-SIM Support
Wi‑Fi Trends
GPS Trends
NFC Trends
Cellular-Baseband Integration
5 Broadcom
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Product Roadmap
Conclusions
6 Intel
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Product Roadmap
Conclusions
7 Marvell
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Cellular-Modem Chips
Wi-Fi Combo Chips
Design Details
Cellular-Modem Chips
Wi-Fi Combo Chips
Product Roadmap
Conclusions
8 MediaTek
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Product Roadmap
Conclusions
9 Nvidia
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Product Roadmap
Conclusions
10 Qualcomm
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Cellular-Modem Chips
Wi-Fi Combo Chips
Design Details
Cellular-Modem Chips
Wi-Fi Combo Chips
Product Roadmap
Conclusions
11 ST-Ericsson
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Cellular-Modem Chips
Wi-Fi Combo Chips
Design Details
Cellular-Modem Chips
Wi-Fi Combo Chips
Product Roadmap
Conclusions
12 Texas Instruments
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Product Roadmap
Conclusions
13 Other Wireless Vendors
Altair
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Conclusions
GCT Semiconductor
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Conclusions
Leadcore
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Conclusions
Redpine
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Conclusions
Renesas Mobile
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Conclusions
Samsung
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Conclusions
Sequans
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Conclusions
Spreadtrum
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Conclusions
Via Technologies
14 Comparing Wireless Chips
Cellular Modems
HSPA Modems
DC-HSPA+ Modems
LTE-Only Modems
LTE Multimode Modems
TD-SCDMA Modems
Wi-Fi Combo Chips
Vendor Overview
802.11n 1x1 Chips
802.11n 2x2 Chips
802.11ac Chips
15 Conclusions
Market and Technology Directions
Industry Consolidation
Air-Interface Trends
Emerging Features
Vendor Outlook
Qualcomm
Broadcom
MediaTek
Intel
Marvell
Nvidia
ST-Ericsson
Texas Instruments
Other Vendors
Closing Thoughts
Appendix: Further Reading
Index
Figure 1‑1. Handset-market segmentation in 2011.
Figure 2‑1. Conceptual 22 MIMO system.
Figure 2‑2. Effect of Bluetooth/Wi‑Fi coexistence.
Figure 3‑1. Block diagram of generic smartphone with application processor.
Figure 3‑2. Block diagram of generic tablet computer.
Figure 3‑3. Block diagram of a generic mobile Wi-Fi chip.
Figure 3‑4. Stacked-die and package-on-package techniques.
Figure 4‑1. Industry shipments of mobile devices by type, 20092016.
Figure 4‑2. Handset attach rates for connectivity functions, 20092016.
Figure 4‑3. Unit market share of cellular-baseband processors by vendor, 20112012.
Figure 4‑4. Unit market share of standalone and combo Wi-Fi chips by vendor, 20112012.
Figure 4‑5. Industry shipments of cellular-baseband processors by air interface, 20092016.
Figure 4‑6. Industry shipments of cellular-baseband processors by integration type, 20092016.
Figure 4‑7. Industry shipments of Wi-Fi chips by integration type, 20092016.
Figure 4‑8. Industry shipments of Wi-Fi combo chips by type, 20092016.
Figure 5‑1. Block diagram of Broadcom Wi-Fi combo chip.
Figure 6‑1. Block diagram of Intel smartphone reference design.
Figure 6‑2. Intel X-Gold 625 modem module.
Figure 7‑1. USB dongle for TD-SCDMA based on Marvell PXA1202.
Figure 7‑2. Smartphone design based on Marvell modem and Wi-Fi combo chips.
Figure 9‑1. Nvidia Tegra 3 handset with Icera 410 modem.
Figure 10‑1. Block diagram of Qualcomm WCN3660 in a smartphone.
Figure 11‑1. Block diagram of ST-Ericsson CG2905 combo chip.
Figure 13‑1. Sample layouts of Renesas LTE modem.
Table 2‑1. Cellular technologies and data rates.
Table 2‑2. Wi‑Fi modes and their performance.
Table 2‑3. Bluetooth power classes and range.
Table 4‑1. Industry shipments of cellular-baseband processors by vendor, 20112012.
Table 4‑2. Industry shipments of standalone and combo Wi-Fi chips by vendor, 20112012.
Table 5‑1. Key parameters for Broadcom Wi-Fi combo chips.
Table 6‑1. Key parameters for Intel X-Gold cellular-modem chips.
Table 7‑1. Key parameters for Marvell cellular-modem chips.
Table 7‑2. Key parameters for Marvell Avastar Wi-Fi chips.
Table 8‑1. Key parameters for MediaTek Wi-Fi combo chips.
Table 9‑1. Key parameters for Nvidia cellular-modem chips.
Table 10‑1. Key parameters for Qualcomm cellular-modem chips.
Table 10‑2. Key parameters for Qualcomm Wi-Fi combo chips.
Table 11‑1. Key parameters for ST-Ericsson Thor cellular-modem chips.
Table 11‑2. Key parameters for ST-Ericsson Wi-Fi combo chips.
Table 12‑1. Key parameters for TI combo chips.
Table 13‑1. Thin-modem chip vendors and products.
Table 13‑2. Mobile Wi-Fi chip vendors and products.
Table 13‑3. Key parameters for Altair FourGee 3100 baseband processor.
Table 13‑4. Key parameters for GCT cellular-modem chips.
Table 13‑5. Key parameters for Leadcore Innopower family of baseband processors.
Table 13‑6. Key parameters for Redpine Wi-Fi chips.
Table 13‑7. Key parameters for Renesas Mobile cellular-modem chips.
Table 13‑8. Key parameters for CSR6026 Wi-Fi chip.
Table 13‑9. Key parameters for Nanoradio NRX701 Wi‑Fi chipset.
Table 13‑10. Key parameters for Sequans LTE processors.
Table 13‑11. Key parameters for Spreadtrum cellular-modem chips.
Table 14‑1. Comparison of HSPA+ modem chips.
Table 14‑2. Comparison of dual-carrier (DC) HSPA+ modem chips.
Table 14‑3. Comparison of LTE-only modem chips.
Table 14‑4. Comparison of multimode LTE chips now in production.
Table 14‑5. Comparison of multimode LTE chips for 2013 production.
Table 14‑6. Comparison of TD-SCDMA modem chips.
Table 14‑7. Overview of vendors supplying mobile connectivity chipsets.
Table 14‑8. Key parameters for 802.11n single-antenna combo chips.
Table 14‑9. Key parameters for 802.11n MIMO combo chips.
Table 14‑10. Key parameters for 802.11ac combo chips.

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