Tim Cook, Apple's Acting Chief Executive, has stated that "early generation LTE chips would require too many compromises in design," and that has been interpreted as indicating that a 4G-enabled Verizon iPhone won’t be with us anytime soon. But, considering that LTE baseband chips suitable for a top Smartphone or 4G tablet for any vendor are limited, Mr. Cook's remarks are understandable. Here is my current list of LTE baseband chips and their likely availability:
Intel/Infineon (via Blue Wonder acquisition): Expect to sample LTE in Q3/2011
MediaTek (LTE licensed from DoCoMo): Product sampling likely Q1/2012 for TD-LTE, Also licensed Coresonic's LTE baseband IP.
NTT DoCoMo LTE Licensees: Fujitsu, Panasonic & Renesas (based on Tensilica DSP cores); Now in Japan field trials.
Qualcomm: MDM9600 shipping in HTC Thunderbolt (see below), but MDM9625 and MDM9225 Sampling Q4/2011
Renesas Mobile Corp.: The (SP2531) is based on a Nokia-originated (non-TI DSP) design. It supports TD-LTE and FDD-LTE cat 3 with HSPA+ and now sampling.
Samsung Semiconductor: Shipping in both dongles (TeliaSonera in Sweden) and handsets (See below)
Sequans: WiMAX chip house, working with Alcatel-Lucent. TD-LTE dongle modems (SQN3000 series) shipped in small quantities in May 2010.
ST-Ericsson: Thor M7400 LTE/HSPA+ modem will be sampling in Q2/2011.
Since Qualcomm is currently shipping an LTE baseband (the MDM9600, which also handles dual-carrier HSPA+) in the HTC Thunderbolt, one might assume that would be a logical choice for Apple. The Thunderbolt also sports the Snapdragon MSM8655, which is a combo application processor and CDMA-1xEV-DO modem. Consequently, like the Samsung Craft (see below) there are two separate basebands in the handset. The HSPA+ capability also in the MDM9600 appears to be extraneous in a Verizon (CDMA) phone. This may be a clue to the very short battery life of the Thunderbolt that is a major complaint by users. Since the MDM9600 is Gobi™-enabled, one wonders if that chip was designed initially for tablets or laptops where power consumption is less of a concern with their bigger batteries. Since Apple will undoubtedly use its A5 application processor in their upcoming LTE iPhone, they have no interest in employing Snapdragon, so they must wait for a more attractive LTE/3G/2G baseband solution.
Note that last week, Verizon's LTE network was down for a while in some parts of the U.S. and HTC Thunderbolt users found that their handsets defaulted to CDMA-1x (1xRTT) rather than 3G (CDMA-1xEV-DO Rev A). Although there's a temporary manual "fix" for the handset to operate on the 3G network, the change has to be undone when LTE service resumes. The default to 1xRTT is not necessarily the fault of Qualcomm's dual-baseband approach, rather that of Verizon's eHPRD (evolved High Packet Rate Data), a method for CDMA networks to migrate over several years to LTE. GSM/UMTS networks have a natural evolution path to the all-IP LTE networks, but CDMA networks don't have that luxury.
Samsung Craft & Galaxy Indulge: Not True LTE Handsets
What's a "true" LTE handset? In my mind, it should be one that really is superior to HSPA+ and/or CDMA-1xEV-DO Rev B, employing unified and seamless 4G/3G/2G baseband capabilities. The Samsung Craft, launched in mid-September 2010 was touted as "the world's first commercially available 4G LTE handset." That's the truth, but not the whole truth. The Craft was based on a first-generation Samsung LTE baseband that was probably the same one designed for the USB dongles that were deployed by TeliaSonera in Sweden for the world's first LTE network. But the Craft LTE, designed for MetroPCS has no voice over LTE capability and to add voice (and ability to switch to CDMA-1xRTT when it was not near an LTE base station) a Qualcomm CDMA baseband was also in the handset; clearly not a unified solution. MetroPCS' licensed spectrum for the initial launch in Las Vegas was only 5MHz, limiting download speeds to about 1Mbps. The Samsung Galaxy Indulge, released in February, has the praiseworthy Samsung "Hummingbird" 1GHz application processor and a nice display, but likely uses the same pair of baseband chips.
Next Verizon iPhone will have GSM Capability
The next version of the Verizon Wireless iPhone will be a global device, according to the company's financial chief. That, of course, implies a capability for GSM/WCDMA and perhaps HSPA in addition to CDMA-1xEV-DO Rev A (or B). The only baseband vendor that can currently supply such a solution is Qualcomm. With the Verizon GSM capability, AT&T Mobility will no longer be able to tout their iPhones as being the only ones that can connect (mostly) worldwide. So, maybe this will mollify those waiting for the next Verizon iPhone to be LTE capable, and give Apple some breathing time to better perfect a follow-on LTE product.
But, HTC's new Droid Incredible 2 running Android 2.2 for Verizon also has a 3G global capability (employing a Qualcomm Snapdragon solution), but it will be shipping later this month, perhaps taking someadvance wind out of the sails of Verizon's next iPhone.
ON Semiconductor Sprouts DSP Capability
On Semiconductor, has made 9 acquisitions since 2006, each time expanding its product portfolio. The company is introducing a number of new products this year, and one that deserves attention in the cellphone and tablet market is BelaSigna™ R261 a noise-cancellation chip based on a very-low-power DSP engine from its earlier AMI Semiconductor acquisition. Unlike other noise-cancellation solutions that I've seen, this one does not rely on placement of an ambient noise detection microphone that's as far away from the user's microphone as possible (often one on front and one on back of the handset). The BelaSigna solution can have both microphones facing the speech source from 10mm to 30mm apart (even on the same side of the cellphone) and the person speaking can be near the handset or up to 2 meters or so away for hands-free operation (supporting close-talk or far-talk scenarios). The approach allows the use of cheap unmatched omni-directional microphones and is independent of microphone aging. The unique DSP algorithm can effectively sort out the user's voice from the ambient noise.
We respect your privacy. And we don't want to clutter the Internet with unnecessary traffic. If you would rather not receive future mailings from us, please reply to this message with the word BYE as the subject. We acknowledge all removals.