Comms chips

Broadcom Packs NFC Into 40nm Chips

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) unveiled a new family of Near-Field Communications (NFC) chips Monday, the first to be manufactured in 40-nanometer CMOS process. For handset makers this means the chip is smaller, cheaper and more power-light than existing options on the market.

For wireless operators and consumers it means NFC-compatible phones are creeping closer to widespread availability. (See Here Come the NFC Phones and Near-Field Inches Nearer.)

Broadcom’s NFC BCM2079x uses the lightest processing technology, so it can reduce power by 90 percent compared to existing chips, says Craig Ochikubo, VP and GM of Broadcom's Wireless Personal Area Networking division. Plus, it uses 40 percent fewer components and has a 40 percent smaller board area, which he says helps Broadcom “very aggressively target getting this into consumer electronics and portable computing devices, smartphones and handsets.”

“This is really the first NFC reader device that’s targeted around mobile apps,” Ochikubo says. It’s intended to be used for mobile payments and data exchange, in general, when coupled with Broadcom’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth components in any number of devices.

Broadcom bought NFC chipmaker Innovision last year, announcing a one-way NFC tag last December and, just this month, it splashed $3.7 billion for processor startup NetLogic. (See NetLogic Fits Broadcom's Master Plan, Broadcom to Buy NetLogic for $3.7B and Broadcom to Buy NFC Chipmaker.)

The company is sampling its new design now, and Ochikubo expects to have handsets on the market in the first half of the next year.

Why this matters
Although there’s been a lot of excitement around NFC, the market has been stifled by a lack of handsets on the market and, to a larger degree, a business case for the contactless tech. By reducing the size and cost of the chip, Broadcom is helping to address both. (See NFC to Push $50B Over-the-Air by 2014 and Who's Holding Up NFC?)

The semiconductor vendor has also designed the chip to support multiple SIM cards and secure elements, so that users have multiple options by which to conduct a transaction. Most wireless operators, like the Isis members in the U.S. or Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Wallet, are working with multiple credit card companies to create a mobile wallet, which Broadcom can enable. (See Orange: NFC Won’t Make Us Rich , Visa Joins Google's Wallet, Isis Adds Four Credit Cards to Its Mobile Wallet, Google Taps Sprint for Tap-to-Pay and Operators Vie for SIM-Based NFC Control.)

For more
Broadcom chips are making their way into smartphones, tablets, TVs and more consumer electronics. Read up on the company’s device wins below.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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