New 3G performance leaders?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Recently, Signals Research Group published an independent performance report comparing HSDPA solutions from various vendors. The test results, coming as they did from a credible firm, surprised many by concluding that InterDigital(IDCC), Infineon (IFX) and Icera were the winners. I was not surprised though.

Over the past few months, I have extensively covered InterDigital and its SlimChip solution. The SlimChip’s advantage comes from its advanced baseband receivers with firm theoretical underpinnings. Much like Qualcomm, InterDigital has a strong systems team that designs the optimal system first and then seeks to make the cost-performance trade-off. The SlimChip is well-positioned to complement the market-leading applications processors such as TI’s OMAP to break into the smart-phone market. For more coverage on InterDigital, I will refer you to my earlier articles here, here and here.

Infineon is also not a surprising topper at least for two reasons. Firstly, I am betting that Infineon will be in the impending 3G iPhone. The Apple angle implies that Infineon has to match the former’s push for innovation with a high-performance, low power chipset. Secondly, Infineon has a very friendly alliance with InterDigital. The Infineon chipset uses InterDigital’s 3G stack. Besides, I suspect that InterDigital has provided substantial baseband IP for this chipset including the advanced receiver algorithms that have made SlimChip superior. You can read my iPhone suspicions here and here.

Icera is a Bristol-based startup which has raised over $100 million in venture funding till date. Its Livanto solution is the world’s first wireless soft modem. Along with the Adaptive Software solution, Livanto supports HSDPA,WDCMA, GSM and EDGE. The software solution implies that very high precision advanced algorithms can be programmed without spinning a new chip. This not only allows for extremely good performance, but also implies that the Icera chipset can handle any improvements in the standard or receiver algorithm. You can find earlier coverage on Icera here.

I had suggested earlier that an alliance with InterDigital will do TI a world of good. Watch out for Icera as well. Soft modem is the future. This company founded by Broadcom and ST Microelectronics founders already has a pioneer status and can come at a much cheaper price than InterDigital if TI wants quick 3G capability.

In summary, the three companies are not surprising winners, after all. But the test results have challenged Qualcomm’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – its baseband performance. Qualcomm, for the moment, can rely on its economy of scale, service and support to stay ahead. This may also be broken if, for example, TI throws its weight behind InterDigital or Icera.

[Long Qualcomm, InterDigital at the time of writing]


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