Qualcomm broadens its portfolio


As it gears up to announce its fourth quarter results,  Qualcomm has reason to be more confident than it has been for some time. Its share price has risen steadily this month, topping $60 – not high by the standards of a firm which has sometimes hit $100, but a big improvement on a depressed September in which it came close to multiyear lows.

The confidence comes partly from the ongoing restructuring, which is seeing the firm adjusting to changing market conditions – notably the increased competition from MediaTek and China, at a time of slowing smartphone growth – with staff reductions and divestments. There is still speculation that Qualcomm might break itself in half, splitting off the licensing business, but that now looks less likely, which is itself a factor in stabilizing the stock.

But cost cutting does not deliver sustainable recovery, and Qualcomm, true to form, is coupling that with redoubled efforts to develop new markets, and do that ahead of its rivals both in timescales and advanced technology. Earlier this month it showed off its first high end SoC targeted at cloud infrastructure such as C-RAN and servers. Last week it unveiled a quartet of new products at the Broadband World Forum, including 802.11ac Wave 2 WiFi.

This week, it’s the turn of the internet of things (IoT), with new LTE modems for connected devices, and a reference design for security cameras, which Qualcomm claims it can make “conscious” (see separate item).

The two low power LTE modems are for 4G-only IoT devices, a market it has, so far, largely left to specialist suppliers like Sequans and Altair. The MDM9207-1 and MDM9206 are particularly targeted at smart meters and other smart city end points and are clearly designed to improve the chances of low power LTE being a standard network for city deployments, rather than alternatives like Sigfox, LoRa or the emerging WiFi 802.11ah.

Meanwhile, at the Broadband World Forum, Qualcomm harnessed its Ikanos acquisition and launched a G.fast chip, which was adopted by Sagemcom of France for a home gateway product.

Accompanying the chip is a full-blown home gateway specification, the Vx585 reference platform. This is built around its series of xDSL chips and processors and connectivity software tools. Qualcomm Atheros is one of the few companies (of course Broadcom is another) which can wrap the processor, the WiFi and the DSL components into a single system-on-chip, all of its own design. By adding the full range of ADSL all the way to G.fast, as well as the emerging VDSL 35b profile extensions, it puts itself in a tiny group of providers that can provide this complete set, along with Broadcom and Israeli start-up Sckipio.

The chip giant also came out with the IPQ40x8/x9 SoC ‘gateway on a chip’, based on the Qualcomm Internet Processor (IPQ), its VIVE WiFi, built-in Gigabit Ethernet, StreamBoost software, and with support for dual-band simultaneous transmission and LTE backhaul. This integrates two 2×2 radios capable of up to 1.73Gbps maximum PHY rate, a quad-core ARM CPU and a Gigabit Ethernet switch on the same chip.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.


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