Beceem Attracts WiMax Backers

Mobile WiMax chipmaker Beceem Communications Inc. is racking up some high-profile backers, this week announcing an investment from NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM)'s VC arm. (See DoCoMo Invests in Beceem.)

Beceem is developing baseband processors for OFDMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access) user terminals, specified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 802.16e mobile WiMax standard. The technology has emerged as high performance rival to the CDMA (code division multiple access) technology used in 3G wireless.

The vendor closed a $20 million Series C round in December led by Samsung Venture Investment Corp. , which brought its total funding to $40 million. (See Beceem Adds $20M.) That was topped off by an investment from Intel Capital last month. (See Intel Invests in Beceem.)

Lars Johnsson, vice president of business development, says Beceem is "deeply involved" with both companies. It's working with Samsung on terminals for WiBro -- the South Korean version of mobile WiMax -- and with Intel to help bring WiMax products to trial. Now DoCoMo will collaborate with Beceem to evaluate the viability of mobile WiMax as a wireless broadband technology.

Founded in October 2003 by executives of DSL chipmaker Centillium Communications Inc. , Beceem boasts as its CTO Dr. Arogyaswami Paulraj, an acknowledged expert in smart-antenna processing and MIMO (multiple input-multiple output) technology from his time at Stanford University .

The company began generating revenues in the first quarter, says Johnsson, shipping its first commercial ASIC in January. He admits the vendor is "taking a calculated chance" in focusing solely on mobile WiMax when the fixed version is just moving beyond the certification stage, but says that focus gives it first-mover advantage.

In Unstrung Insider's WiMax Chipset 2006 Market Outlook, chief analyst Gabriel Brown points to Beceem as an early market leader: "Beceem has laid out a product strategy and timeline that should place it among the leaders in the mobile WiMax chipset market."

The vendor is doing its own multiband RFIC work, which he notes "may allow for faster development and -- crucially -- greater integration between the digital and analog parts of the system." That's important, because it will allow handsets to support multiple smart antenna schemes, and Beceem expects to ship its second generation products with MIMO support during the third quarter.

Brown writes: "The only other vendor taking this two-chip (RFIC plus PHY/MAC) approach is, we understand, Intel, with its "Ofer" product -- reportedly scheduled for availability in the first half of 2007."

Although Beceem is headquartered in Santa Clara, it has set its sights on India, one of the major potential markets for WiMax, as a testing ground for the technology and two thirds of its employees are based in Bangalore. (See India Looks to WiMax for Broadband and Beceem Accelerates WiMax.)

Johnsson says India has gone a long way in making 2.5GHz and 3.3GHz spectrum available for WiMax networks and carriers are eager to get moving on deployment. "Two of the four big operators are discussing with OEMs to put up trial networks by the end of the year," he says. "It either works and they can get going or they'll need to go back and do their homework."

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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