Can Marvell lead China’s LTE market with new SoCs?
Marvell unveiled two new 64bit mobile processors targeting the fast growing global LTE market: a new mobile SoC based on octa-cores for high performance smartphones and tablets and another that uses quad-cores for economy models.
Marvell hopes to leverage the company’s “mature LTE modem” in the new additions to its Armada mobile product family. While Qualcomm remains the dominant player in the global LTE market, able to dwarf its competitors’ incremental gains, Marvell’s quiet success with its LTE base band business in China has gotten little notice.
Setting the record straight, Lu Chang, senior director of mobile business unit at Marvell, told EE Timesthat Marvell today has a 30 per cent market share in China’s LTE market.
Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, observed, “Marvell has very credible world-class smartphone chip technology. Now with a 64bit application processor on the same die with their LTE/TD-SCDMA modem, it puts them ahead of MediaTek.” MediaTek’s current solution employs a separate LTE modem chip, not on the same die with the application processor, Strauss explained.
Marvell’s new mobile processor featuring eight ARM Cortex A53 cores, called Armada Mobile PXA1936, delivers five base bands. They include Time Division Long-Term Evolution (TD-LTE), Frequency Division Duplexing Long Term Evolution (FDD-LTE), Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access (TD-SCDMA), Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) and Global Systems for Mobile (GSM).
Two unique features
Marvell’s octa-core 64bit mobile processor offers “dedicated security processor” and an “integrated sensor hub,” said Marvell’s Chang. “Two features unique to our processor.”
Both are important, according to Marvell. Its dedicated security processor is critical for mobile payment, and the company’s PXA1936 low-power sensor hub technology delivers “unprecedented sensor fusion capabilities.”
While the 64bit octa-core processor is expected to extend Marvell’s success in the rapidly growing market for low-cost phones based on highly integrated processors, Marvell’s quad-core 64bit PXA1908 is aimed at driving down the cost of LTE phones even further by using more pared-down, mainstream features.
For example, while the octa-core processor supports 1080px display and an improved image processor to support a 13- to 16Mpx camera, the quad-core processor is designed for 720px displays with image processing to support eight to 13Mpx. Both PXA1936 and 1908 SoCs are integrated with GPS.
Asked what differentiates Marvell’s chips in the Armada family, Forward Concepts’ Strauss pointed out that Marvell’s LTE/TD-SCDMA modem gathers GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi all on the same die. “They have their own LTE RF transceiver chip, and their power management chip also includes integrated codec, battery fuel gauge, and camera flash control.”
Marvell’s “complete platform solution” (including SoC, RF transceiver, wireless combo, power management and charger) results in better performance in the same tier, Chang explained.
Marvell’s LTE modem technology is already certified by a number of operators in the global market, including Verizon, AT&T and China Mobile. In Japan, Marvell’s device is being tested by NTT Docomo, according to Chang. Although Mavell’s five-mode 4G LTE processor does not support CDMA2000, Chang said that Marvell’s modem has been certified by Verizon in its LTE-only category.
Marvell to face stiff competition in the 2nd half
In the second quarter of 2014, Strategy Analytics pins Marvell at approximately 4 per cent revenue share in the global cellular base band market. That was “up from just 2.4 in the second quarter, 2013,” according to Sravan Kumar Kundojjala, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics.
“The company’s base band business is doing well from the last four to five quarters, thanks to TD-LTE chip in China and 3G tablet design-wins at Samsung,” Kundojjala said. Indeed, Marvell’s previous chips in its Armada mobile LTE family have notable design wins, with Coolpad, ZTE and Samsung (for both its new 4G LTE smartphone and Galaxy Tab 4 tablet).
Although MediaTek last year had a 30 per cent share compared to Marvell’s 12%, according to Forward Concepts, Strauss said, “Marvell did have a great year in 2014,” so their claim of 30 per cent market share in China’s LTE market “is not outlandish.”
Fending off MediaTek
How Marvell can maintain its solid share (after Qualcomm) in China’s LTE market, however, remains to be seen. After all, Taiwan’s MediaTek has been accelerating its entry into China’s LTE market.
MediaTek aims to pare Qualcomm’s lead in China’s 4G smartphone market with the launch of a new octa-core processor in the first quarter of 2015. Earlier this year, MediaTek started sampling its MT6795, a new 64bit LTE True Octa-core SoC, part of a product line-up of LTE chips aimed next year at matching Qualcomm’s existing range of high, medium and low-end products. Kundojjala predicts that Marvell will see strong competition from Qualcomm, MediaTek and Intel in China in this year’s second half.
Strauss said, “Qualcomm is working both ends of the market, the high end with Apple (but that’s a thin modem) and the low end with the likes of fast-growing Xiaomi and Vivo.” Marvell will have to move “up market” to catch up with Qualcomm (at least in revenue terms), said Strauss. Marvell is sampling its 64bit quad-core LTE mobile SoC (PXA1908) now, with volume production scheduled to start before the end of the year.
Marvell’s Chang expects its partner OEMs to roll out products in the first quarter, 2015. Because Marvell’s new 64bit octa-core PXA1936 is designed on the same platform, it will be easier “for our customers to migrate to the higher-performance solution,” Chang added. Customers’ mobile devices based on PXA1936 will reach the market in the spring, he said. Both PXA1908 and 1936 SoCs are manufactured by multiple foundries using a 28nm CMOS process.