Tablet makers now have a new chipset option when configuring devices for AT&T Mobility. Nvidia (NVDA) says its Icera 410 LTE multimode data modem chipset is good to go on AT&T Mobility’s growing LTE network. The modems are for tablets and notebooks, but Nvidia still does not have a smartphone LTE modem for the carrier’s network.
A smartphone LTE modem for a major U.S. carrier would be a big win for a Nvidia. Right now, Qualcomm dominates this business, and the San Diego company’s strength in LTE modems helps it sell its applications processors to device makers, since the modems and processors need to work together. Nvidia is the only other company making LTE modems now; the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company acquired baseband and RF technologies spanning 2G, 3G and LTE networks when it acquired Icera almost a year ago.
“I actually think that those companies that offer both solutions will dominate,” says Flint Pulskamp, research director of communications semiconductors at IDC. “Both means being able to offer a discrete applications processor solution for high end smartphones, media tablets and other consumer applications that do not require a cellular modem, and an integrated AP-Basband solution primarily to address the entry and mid-range smartphone market at a competitive price.”
Integration can also make a difference at the high end of the market, since this is where consumers are willing to pay for phones with quad-core processors. Consumers also want LTE compatibility, so a chip supplier that offers both a quad-core processor and an LTE modem validated on a major carrier’s network will be well positioned. Nvidia seems to be approaching this market from two directions, validating its modem on AT&T Mobility’s network in the United States, while reportedly integrating a smartphone LTE modem with a quad-core chipset in Japan.
Semiconductor analyst Linley Gwennap says LTE smartphones with Nvidia chipsets may well be in AT&T Mobility’s future, but that Verizon Wireless will continue to source devices from manufacturers that use Qualcomm’s chipsets. “Nvidia probably won’t get into Verizon because their LTE network requires backward compatibility to CDMA, which is a Qualcomm exclusive technology,” says Gwennap.
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