November 13, 2014
By Will Strauss
Qualcomm Works Both Ends of the Market
Long embedded in the high-end Apple iPhone dynasty, Qualcomm's chips are now also doing quite well at the inexpensive smartphone market with fast-rising China-based companies like Xiaomi and Vivo. Although their China-specific smartphones also employ modem chips from other vendors (like Spreadtrum and Innofidei), the devices for 4G or for the West tend to favor Qualcomm's.
Qualcomm is Still the DSP Silicon Market Leader
As I have pointed out before, discrete DSP chips (including those usually sold as off-the-shelf products) constitute only about 7% of the "DSP silicon" market in revenue. The largest market for DSP silicon is as embedded solutions, typically thought of as System on Chip (SoC) products. Of that SoC DSP market, cellphones still constitute the largest segment, with baseband modem chips being the most significant. However, even application processors increasing deploy DSP functionality, either as co-located DSP cores or as SIMD extensions to the CPU instruction set.
All baseband chips consist of one or more DSP cores. Qualcomm, the clear baseband market leader has long employed two DSP cores in each of its MSM modem chips, and now is shipping three or more of its Hexagon DSP cores in its Snapdragon chips (which include application processors). In the last three calendar quarters, Qualcomm shipped 650 million MSM (modem) chips, and provides fourth-quarter 2014 guidance of another 250-270 million units. So we estimate that the company will ship 910 million modems for calendar year 2014. And note that Qualcomm Atheros wireless chips (Wi-Fi and more) and those of other subsidiaries and recent acquisitions are not included in that modem count. We estimate that an average of 2.3 of its DSP cores are in each of its modems, therefore…
Qualcomm continues to lead the global unit market for DSP silicon shipments…with an estimated 2.1 billion DSPs to be shipped in silicon in 2014.
CEVA Still Rules in Licensed DSP Cores
Although not a silicon vendor, CEVA Inc. continues as the world's leading licensor of DSP-based IP platforms. It’s best known for wireless basebands (2G, 3G & 4G LTE/LTE-A), connectivity (Wi-Fi & Bluetooth) and serial storage (SATA & SAS). CEVA claims that its IP was shipped in more than one billion devices in 2013, including 40% of handsets shipped worldwide. For its latest quarter, ending Sept. 30th, 195 million CEVA-powered handsets shipped. Although Apple is not among them, CEVA claims its licensees have chips in many of the world's leading cellphones, including those from Coolpad, HTC, Huawei, Lenovo, LG, Nokia, Samsung, TCL, Xiaomi and ZTE.
Cambridge U.K. Continues Identity Change
In recent history, there was Cambridge Silicon Radio, which became CSR. And CSR sold part of itself to Samsung. And now Qualcomm has snatched up the rest of CSR. My contacts (and my email “bounces”) indicate about 200 people have been laid off at the former CSR. And then there was Broadcom’s VideoCore operation in Cambridge. But Broadcom is now out of the cellphone modem business, lessening the need for ancillary chips...like video.
But, hope springs eternal. It appears that many of the laid-off Cambridge engineers have set up operations for Roku and Amazon. Amazon appears to have set up a software team headed up by Laurent Brisedoux who used to run the applications team for Mobile Multimedia at Broadcom. It’s a certainty that the availability of skilled engineers will lead to other business opportunities.
While on the subject of Cambridge...
One of my Cambridge readers also mentioned a unique startup there. Although little to do with DSP or wireless, a company there is addressing color blindness…something that I've encountered among some of my colleagues. Spectral Edge’s Eyeteq technology combines details that are beyond what colorblind people can see to make them visible in such a way that non-colorblind people like it too. Check it out here.
As always, I encourage your feedback.
President & Principal Analyst