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Broadcom has ARM SoC for low cost Android handsets, built in WiFi hotspot

Although the great bulk of Broadcom’s System on a Chip architectures have historically been based around MIPS, and MIPS has been going on about how it

By PETER WHITE

Published: 16 December, 2010

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Although the great bulk of Broadcom’s System on a Chip architectures have historically been based around MIPS, and MIPS has been going on about how it can run Android even faster than ARM based chips, Broadcom this week came out with a clear intent to build all its mobile Android SoCs, complete with onboard WiFi, around ARM designs.

The decision is a natural one for this market, but it will be somewhat unnatural for a company that has made much of its fortune using MIPs and we can’t help wonder if this undermines the entire MIPs architecture going forwards. Broadcom has been looking for a breakthrough in cellphones for some time, so it couldn’t stick to its MIPs roots for application processors, and instead needs to offer what the market expects for Android, which despite Intel’s arrival on the Android scene, with Google TV, remains ARM when in low power mobile applications. Broadcom exclusively uses MIPs cores throughout its set top and DVD chip ranges and introduced a major new MIPs processor this week for 3D TV set tops.

The company will now use a dual-core processor ARM design (we think it’s the ARM Cortex A9 but it hasn’t specified and Broadcom is a long term licensee of multiple ARM cores) which will support the creation of low cost Android handsets, with integrated Wi-Fi hotspots. The trend towards producing handsets which can act as a MiFi style hotspot, will in effect be taken down market to much cheaper phones, something that Broadcom is expert at and which we have always said would be welcome in the mobile chip sector. Just what this says about Broadcom in the Tablet market is anybody’s guess , whether it may come to market with an SoC at all, and if it does which architecture it might use.

Broadcom not only survived successive historic price crashes in the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth markets, but flourished on them and drove prices down, and now looks set to do the same in cellular, despite major chip builders like Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and MediaTek . It clearly plans to leverage off its global leadership in WiFi, to make its move into Android.

So far onboard WiFi hotspots have mainly appeared in premium products such as the Palm Pre, but Broadcom is targeting affordable phones for prepaid deals and emerging economies. Not only will its WiFi heritage help it against the cellular market leaders, it will also help to sideline Marvell, which was the first to include a personal hotspot on its mobile chipset.

The Broadcom BCM2157, which is based on a dual-core ARM processor running at 500MHz, is now shipping to "early access customers", and the first commercial handsets are expected to make their debut at Mobile World Congress conference in February. It will be able to support up to 8 concurrent WiFi connected devices.

As well as integrated Wi-Fi, the processor will support multi-touch displays, 5-megapixel cameras and 7.2Mbps HSDPA - the basic elements of a mass market smartphone. It will also support HVGA displays. There will also be the ability to use two SIM cards, important for uptake in emerging economies such as India.

The platform is an extension of its existing BCM2153 and is now sampling to early access customers with first commercial launches expected in Q1 2011.

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