Chipping Away at LTE

The first Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks are entering commercial deployment, and silicon and equipment vendors alike are now scrambling to support multimode USB dongles and handsets. To meet user expectations for global roaming, handsets will need to support multiple LTE frequency bands and backward compatibility with 3G and 2G networks, for areas not covered by LTE. This is a major challenge that is being met to varying degrees by multiple semiconductor vendors, both large and small.

Telia Company has already launched an LTE service in Sweden and Norway and will roll out to further regions using 2.6GHz, 1.8GHz, 900MHz, and 800MHz FD-LTE. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) is planning to launch 700MHz FD-LTE in the US before the end of 2010. China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) is planning a launch using 2.6GHz TD-LTE. And NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) is planning a December 2010 launch for 1.5GHz LTE in Japan.

Each of these networks, plus many planned for 2011, will launch with support for singlemode USB dongles only. Subscribers will continue to use other modems and handsets for 3G data and voice. Multimode dongles and handsets are needed before carriers can attract more than a small group of early adopters to LTE.

At this critical time, the latest issue of Heavy Reading Components Insider, "LTE Chip Makers Ramp Up Production to Meet Demand," analyzes the availability of LTE components including multimode solutions, identifying the key advantages these technologies hold for carriers and telecom equipment manufacturers. The report reviews the key features of more than 30 baseband and radio frequency (RF) devices, supporting base stations, modems, and handsets. The report also profiles 24 leading vendors in this key market.

Base stations for trial networks and the initial commercial deployment of LTE have been built using standard DSP devices and multicore processors from leading vendors, including Cavium Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM), Freescale Semiconductor Inc. , NetLogic Inc. , Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), and Wintegra Inc. Cell sizes are expected to be smaller for LTE than previous generations, and therefore several companies, including DesignArt Networks and Mindspeed Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: MSPD), have developed integrated devices for small micro and pico base stations. Picochip has championed 3G femtocells, which we expect to be a key part of future LTE deployments.

Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) and ST-Ericsson have been the leading vendors for 3G handset baseband devices. Both companies were early to announce LTE solutions but are seeing strong competition from alternative silicon vendors and handset manufacturers, such as LG and Samsung with in-house designs. As the emphasis for carriers moves from singlemode LTE dongles to multimode dongles and handsets, we expect flexibility, integration, and power to become key differentiators. Icera Inc. has already demonstrated LTE running on a programmable 3G device. Altair Semiconductor , Beceem Communications Inc. , Comsys Mobile , Sequans Communications , and Wavesat Inc. have modified and updated their WiMax baseband solutions to support LTE.

RF transceivers are key components for base stations, modems, and handsets. They are available with support for either a limited frequency band or the full 375MHz-4GHz range that may be required. Most RF devices support the key 700MHz-2.7GHz range, but they may require different external components for each frequency band. Channel bandwidth, MIMO capability, baseband I/F, and support for both FD-LTE and TD-LTE are all key parameters. Established RF transceiver suppliers include Analog Devices Inc. (NYSE: ADI), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX), Maxim Integrated Products Inc. (Nasdaq: MXIM), and Semtech Corp. (Nasdaq: SMTC). Smaller vendors are Altair Semiconductor , BitWave Semiconductor Inc. , Genasic Design Systems Ltd. , and Lime Microsystems .

The leading semiconductor vendors are already well placed with base station manufacturers and modem and handset suppliers. LTE will demand high-performance solutions, capable of 150 Mbit/s downstream, that will support 3G and 2G legacy networks within the power and cost constraints expected for wireless infrastructure equipment and mobile handsets. The winners will be those companies that can successfully deliver the complete solution before LTE reaches widespread deployment starting in 2013/2014.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst, Heavy Reading Components Insider

This report, LTE Chip Makers Ramp Up Production to Meet Demand, is available for $1,595. For more information please visit: www.heavyreading.com/commchip.

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