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Feb 25, 2013

Marvell and Altair show off LTE device chips – Rethink Wireless

February 21, 2013

By Caroline Gabriel

The LTE handset chips will be coming thick and fast at Mobile World Congress, and among the firms previewing their latest offerings this week were Marvell and Altair.

Marvell has unveiled two quad-core applications processor with integrated modems in the past week – its first offering for LTE, and a 3G model designed to bring four-core handsets to the masses.

The company has added TD-LTE and FD-LTE capabilities to its quad-core platform, which can also support 3G and EDGE. Marvell expects commercial products based on this platform to be available this year and it already has a partner in ZTE, which will use the platform for a demonstration of dual-radio, dual-standby (DRDS) technology in a prototype LTE smartphone at Mobile World Congress.

The 3G system-on-chip supports HSPA+, TD-HSPA+ for China, and EDGE. Called PXA 1088, it runs on four ARM Cortex-A7 cores. “We are running as fast as we can,” co-founder Weili Dai told EETimes, and indeed Marvell, better known in the mobile world for its ‘combo chips’ (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and so on) is moving aggressively to try to dent Qualcomm in the processor/modem sector. It says its platform provides the first quad-core ‘worldphone’ processor with such advanced video and graphics capabilities. The 3G model is positioned for the mainstream market, as “an affordable 3G platform designed for both smartphones and tablets”, and it should be in commercial devices in the first half of this year.

Strong support for China Mobile’s TDD technologies in 3G and 4G is important to Marvell’s current growth in handsets, and Will Strauss of Forward Concepts believes the firm leads the field in supplying combined processors/modems for TD-SCDMA. The analyst firm believes Marvell shipped about 17m units to China in 2012 for about 58% of shipments of TD-SCDMA basebands with integrated processors. It was followed by local firm Spreadtrum on 27% and then by MediaTek and ST-Ericsson. However, MediaTek will soon launch its own quad-core offering for this market, and Spreadtrum promises to show its TD-LTE/TD-SCDMA modem and quad-core Cortex-A7 apps processor at MWC.

Another 4G chip was unveiled this week, by single-mode LTE specialist Altair Semiconductor. It has added the 3800/3802 baseband processors and the 6300 radio chip to its FourGee platform. The firm, which started life in the WiMAX world and has taken part in TD-LTE trials in China is targeting dongles, mobile routers, smartphones and, in future, M2M devices which require LTE-only (in FDD or TDD flavors but without integrated 3G or 2G).

Its latest chips support two elements of LTE-Advanced Release 10 – carrier aggregation and eICIC, and other elements will be added via software upgrades as demand is seen. Head of marketing Eran Eshed told GigaOM: “In contrast to competitive solutions, Altair’s solution is based on a very advanced SDR (software defined radio) architecture which means that we have the ability to deploy a chipset and upgrade its features as standards evolve.”

An interesting feature of the chips is support for envelope tracking (ET) technology, which address the fragmentation of LTE spectrum by supporting many bands at once while preserving battery life. UK start-up Nujira has been pushing ET for several years and recently announced Woodstock, a reference design for smartphone RF front ends, which can support a total of 16 frequencies while keeping power low. Eshed did not reveal whether Altair’s ET technology was from Nujira or another supporter such as Quantance, but the firm is early to recognize the potential of this approach.