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Broadcom vs. Qualcomm Goes Femto

Qualcomm and Broadcom are set to clash in the femto chip market, and that fight could even spill over into the residential gateway sector

Michelle Donegan

November 1, 2010

3 Min Read
Broadcom vs. Qualcomm Goes Femto

The long-standing battle between two of the wireless silicon market's big guns, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), is about to enter the femtocell arena now that Broadcom has announced its intention to acquire Israeli femto chipset startup Percello Ltd. (See Broadcom to Buy Femto Chip Startup for $86M.)

The clash of these two titans is not likely to change the femtocell scene overnight; however, it could lead to a new but related battle, as the duo's rivalry could now spill over into the broadband home gateway sector. (See CTIA 2010: Qualcomm Snags First Femto Wins, Qualcomm Dishes New Femto Details, and RadioFrame's Mystery Femto Buyer.)

The possibility of adding femtocell capabilities to home gateways is one of the reasons why Broadcom likes the small home base station technology, and why it decided to buy Percello for $86 million. (See Broadcom Spotted at Femto Forum.)

"Femtos, or small cells, are potentially disruptive technologies and synergistic with what Broadcom does with broadband, backhaul, and WiFi," said Greg Fischer, VP and general manager of Broadcom's Broadband Carrier Access line of business, in an interview with Light Reading Mobile.

The acquisition also means Broadcom will square off with its rival Qualcomm, as Fischer noted that the acquisition "brings us head-to-head" with the San Diego-based chipmaker.

Qualcomm and Broadcom both have their eyes on integrated femtocells, according to Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown.

"Broadcom builds so many of the other components in a home gateway," says Brown. "It can possibly start creating a better optimized platform or reference design, integrating femtocell capability into home gateway platforms. This is what Qualcomm is proposing in the long term with Snapdragon."

Of course, Broadcom and Qualcomm aren’t the only femto chips players in town. Fischer noted that the other "key competitor" is Picochip , the UK-based femto chipset pioneer that claims to have 80 percent of the femto market and expects to ship 1 million chips this year. picoChip's products are used in commercial femto services at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Vodafone UK , for example. (See picoChip Scores $20M, Ships 1M Chips , PicoChip Bags $20M, Plans IPO, picoChip Intros Low-Cost Femto Design, Marvell Man, and picoChip Expands in India.)

Integration isn't everything
While Broadcom's Fischer said the company is already hearing interest from operators about a variety of integration configurations involving Ethernet, WiFi, DSL, and femtocells, he indicated that those various combinations would be realized once femtocells reach a certain volume in the market. But integration isn't necessarily the key to increasing the market volumes.

"I don’t think that necessarily reducing the cost through integration would make the technology prolific," he said. "Operators have other challenges yet in terms of figuring out their strategies as well as the technical challenges. There are guys leading [AT&T, Vodafone, SoftBank Corp. ] -- other carriers are watching how those deployments go."

"We have a long-term view on this," added Fischer. "[The Percello acquisition] is a very good start for us."

So what other silicon suppliers might be looking to make a move on femtocells? Companies to keep an eye on are Freescale Semiconductor Inc. , and Cavium Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM), as well as Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), which introduced a digital signal processor for femtos in late 2008. (See TI Dives Into Femtos.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

About the Author(s)

Michelle Donegan

Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry for the last 20 years on both sides of the Pond. Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications including Communications Week International, Total Telecom and, most recently, Light Reading.  

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