Qualcomm processor opens door for cheaper LTE smartphones

Growing volumes and new components are helping push down the cost

Qualcomm has announced a new processor and modem combination that will open the door for cheaper LTE smartphones.

The chip maker has expanded its Snapdragon 400 family with the introduction of a quad-core processor with multimode 3G and LTE integrated. The processor will be used to power "high-volume smartphones in emerging regions," Qualcomm said at the Computex trade show in Taipei.

Today, users still have to pay a high price to get an LTE smartphone or tablet, but prices are coming down thanks to growing volumes and products like the Snapdragon 400, according to Neil Mawston , executive director at market research company Strategy Analytics.

Qualcomm didn't say what it expects phones powered by the new processor will cost. But it will compete with Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 4i processor, which also has an integrated LTE modem and will be targeted at smartphones with a price tag under US$200, Nvidia said earlier this year.

Mawston expects that wholesale prices for the cheapest LTE smartphones will have dropped to below US$200 by the fourth quarter, and the first products will most likely come from Chinese and Korean vendors.

Besides LTE, the new Snapdragon 400 processor also supports the use of two SIM cards and a feature called QuickCharge, which helps shorten the time it takes to charge a phone, according to Qualcomm.

To help inspire device vendors, Qualcomm will release a reference design based on the Snapdragon 400 processor with integrated multimode 3G and 4G LTE. The processor will start shipping at the end of the year, according to Qualcomm.

Overall LTE smartphone shipments will grow from 90.9 million units in 2012 to 275 million in 2013, according to Strategy Analytics. That growth will be helped by an increasing number of commercial LTE networks. At the beginning of of May there were 175 LTE networks, and that number is expected to grow to 248 by the end of the year, according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA).

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Mikael Ricknäs

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