While designers in Silicon Valley and Helsinki may spend months refining the fit and finish of a new smartphone, Chinese manufacturers are taking mobile devices from concept to consumer in a fraction of that time. One way to speed the process is to buy all the phone’s chipsets from one vendor, so the companies who design silicon for smartphones are bundling their products in an effort to create turnkey solutions for smartphone makers.
“We’re closing the void between chipset OEMs and phone OEMs,” says Mukul Seth, Broadcom’s director of marketing for mobile platform solutions. “Think of it as a Lego – the hardware is done, the software is done, our customer can take it and build a phone.” Broadcom (BRCM) recently launched three new chipset solutions aimed at the entry-level market. They are positioned as turnkey solutions for Android manufacturers, combining an HSPA+ processor, a graphics processor, a modem, an RF component, a power management chip, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, GPS capability, and an NFC chip. The product supports dual SIM cards within one phone, which is important to manufacturers who target emerging markets.
Five years from now half the smartphones sold will be priced below $150 before subsidies, according to Informa Telecoms and Media, as the smartphone market splits into a high-end and a low-end segment. And the low-end segment is growing faster.
“Low and entry level smartphones are cannibalizing feature phones, and are probably the biggest segment by volume,” says David Favreau, vice president of product management at Qualcomm Atheros. He says Qualcomm (QCOM) has a large team in China working on a full turnkey reference design for mid-to-low-end smartphone platforms. He says the typical Qualcomm chipset already includes an applications processor and a cellular modem (often on the same chip), as well as a power management chip, a cellular RF component and connectivity technology (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.) Qualcomm’s reference design team takes that one step further.
“It’s addressing the needs of the diverse OEM customer base that we see in China,” says Favreau. “They may not have all the engineering wherewithal needed to create their own designs, and they are able to strongly leverage the work we do.” With more than 100 mobile phone manufacturers in China, the competition is intense and streamlining the silicon purchases can cut costs and reduce time to market.
Qualcomm and Broadcom are both fabless chipmakers, meaning that they design semiconductors but do not manufacture them in volume. Most of the chip fabrication takes place in Asia, much closer to the equipment makers who are buying these chipsets.