Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Broadcom dual-core HSPA+ processor extends Android Jelly Bean to low-end smartphones

Broadcom has announced the addition of a dual-core HSPA+ processor to their "affordable" smartphone chip set family, along with the development of a portfolio of turnkey 3G designs which primarily target handset manufacturers in the Chinese market. The turnkey platforms offer a selection of configurations, including the new BCM21664T, as well as the single and dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processors which Broadcom announced at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February this year. Broadcom has been the supplier of HSPA baseband processors to Samsung, for that company's entry-level Galaxy-Y smartphones for the youth market.

Mike Civiello, Senior Director of Marketing at Broadcom, says that he expects China Unicom to be an early adopter of BCM21664T-equipped phones, when the second-largest Chinese cellular operator cranks up its HSPA+ network in Q1 of 2013. There is currently a preponderance of 2G cell phone service in China, mostly provided by the world's largest wireless network operator - China Mobile. Civiello says that customers are drawn to dual-SIM handsets, which allow the backup of broader 2G voice coverage and roaming with China Mobile, while facilitating an upgrade to faster 3G data plans with China Unicom. Number portability between carriers has not been implemented in China, so consumers are able to keep their old phone number and contact list intact with the dual-SIM approach.

The BCM21664T employs a dual ARM Cortex A9 architecture, which Broadcom claims is a first for HSPA+ entry-level smartphones. The modem meets 3GPP Release-8, Category-14 specifications for  21.1 Mbps  downstream connectivity and 5.8 Mbps upstream connectivity. Broadcom has also incorporated their VideoCore multimedia processor into the entry-level device, to provide 720p HD recording with 1080p playback rated at over 20GFLOPS of graphics processing capacity. The BCM21664T modem and GPU specifications essentially match the top of the line BCM28155 which Broadcom announced at MWC.

A BCM21664T turnkey design kit will include Broadcom's RF, Power Management Unit (PMU), and wireless connectivity suite, which includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC. In November, Broadcom contributed their NFC software stack to the Android Open Source Community, so that it will be incorporated with Google's standard release for Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and beyond. The platform also optionally supports the WiFi Alliance's Miracast standard, which enables wireless HD playback between compatible devices. Broadcom is currently providing samples of the BCM21664T to lead customers, and is planning full production in the second quarter of 2013.
Along with the BCM21664T, Broadcom has also developed turnkey 3G designs based on the 1GHz, 40 nm single-core ARM Cortex A9 BCM21654G HSPA processor, and the 1.2GHz "Double-Dual" HSPA+ BCM28145 and 155. The BCM21654G is a 7.2/5.8 Mbps HSPA modem, with low-power VGA video support and a 7GFLOP GPU, supporting 720p Video. The BCM28145 and BCM28155  have dual ARM A9 cores, and support HSPA+ along with 1080p video. Broadcom pre-certifies their turnkey reference designs with multiple carriers, which they say enables handset manufacturers to develop new phones in three months or less.

Civiello describes the "Double-Dual" BCM28145/155 as quad-core designs, since they incorporate dual video processors along with the dual ARM cores. Broadcom is currently sampling all three turnkey platforms to their early access partners, and is targeting full production later this month.

Broadcom has also been Samsung's chip supplier for entry-level phones running the company's proprietary Bada operating system. While rumors persist that Samsung may hedge their Android bets by developing their own alternative to Google's OS, Civiello says the volumes they see for Bada are much lower, and Samsung is clearly pushing Android further into the low end.  The turnkey solutions further the momentum that Android has in the rapidly growing low-priced segment, where Broadcom's includes ZTE and Huawei as customers. 

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