Optical/IP Networks

'Millions' of LTE Handsets by 2012?

Long Term Evolution (LTE) chip developer Altair Semiconductor is predicting that the first "real" LTE handsets will first arrive on the market in the second half of 2010, but it expects the next-gen phones to go mass market until 2012.

The Hod Hasharon, Israel-based semiconductor startup has just released customer samples of what it says is "one of the first" LTE baseband chips available: The "FourGee-3100." The firm says that the silicon can be used for LTE USB dongles, PC cards, and even mobile handsets.

A baseband chip is used with a radio modem for cellphone applications. Eran Eshed, co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development at Altair, told Unstrung Thursday afternoon that the firm will unveil its first LTE radio modem this November.

He estimates that this means that production phones using the Altair silicon could arrive on the market later in 2010. Vendor customers are working on designs now, according to the chip veep.

"You’ll see real handsets in real trials in the second half of 2010," he tells Unstrung. Altair is expecting the handset market to build up steam over the course of 2011, but is expecting volume shipments of phones using the new technology in 2012. "That means millions of units," Eshed says.

All of this puts Altair at the leading edge of LTE design. Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), for instance, is expecting to start delivering engineering samples of LTE data chipset in the third quarter of 2009. (See Qualcomm LTE Slip Could Mean Data Card Delays .)

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) now have LTE modems on their books. Eshed believes that these are "not commercial devices" but that the vendors have good reasons in developing the early modems.

"The intent behind these developments is to capture a strong IPR position... and give the infrastructure something to work with," he says.

Handset vendors have more concerns with LTE besides silicon availability, anyway, Eshed says: "They're working on handover" and other issues, although he expects that any kinks will be straightened out over time.

In the meantime, early LTE adopters can look forward to faster data downloads over laptops, netbooks, and -- possibly -- wireless tablets and other handheld computing devices. Data cards, notes Eshed, are "a nice little business."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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