Qualcomm to integrate LTE modem into next tablet chip

Qualcomm will start shipping a faster, more power-efficient Snapdragon chip for smartphones and tablets

Qualcomm later this year will start shipping test units of its next-generation tablet and smartphone chip, which will be faster and more power-efficient than existing chips and have an LTE modem.

The Snapdragon MSM8960 chip will be based on a new architecture designed to deliver five times better performance and use 75 percent less power than the architecture used in current Snapdragon chips, said Steve Mollenkopf, executive vice president at Qualcomm, during an earnings conference call on Wednesday.

Tablets and smartphones will require faster processors, graphics and modems as demand for data over networks grows, Mollenkopf said. The new chip couples faster CPUs with multimode 3G/4G LTE modems.

The new chip will also improve graphics capabilities compared to its predecessors. One feature will include support for HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) output to plug smartphones or tablets into TV sets to play games or watch high-definition movies.

"It delivers console-quality graphics for rich on-device gaming and high-definition video," Mollenkopf said.

The company will share more details about the new chip and architecture at the upcoming Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Feb. 14 to 17.

Qualcomm officials said that 150 devices with Snapdragon chips are under development. Some notable products using Snapdragon include HTC's upcoming Thunderbolt smartphone and the recently launched Windows Phone 7 smartphones from Dell, Samsung and LG.

The upcoming Snapdragon MSM8660 dual-core chip is also part of the design for 60 devices including tablets and smartphones. Products based on MSM8660 will "ramp" by the end of this quarter, Mollenkopf said.

Qualcomm competes with Texas Instruments and Nvidia, which have also announced dual-core chips for smartphones and tablets. But Nvidia has an early jump over competitors with its Tegra 2 chip, which is being used in tablets from companies including Motorola and Asustek Computer.

While Nvidia has an early start, Qualcomm's integration of an LTE modem in the MSM8960 chip could be key in attracting new customers, Mollenkopf said.

In theory having an integrated LTE modem is good, as it's cheaper to offer everything on a single chip, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

Qualcomm owns chipset and modem businesses, so it can pull together resources to offer highly integrated chips at lower prices than Nvidia, which may have to purchase modems from third parties.

But Nvidia has had success with Tegra 2 because of its high-quality graphics processor and CPU, Gold said. Qualcomm will have to continue improving the graphics and applications performance on Snapdragon.

"Having a good modem is a good strategy, but it's not enough," Gold said. "Two pieces of junk put together doesn't make something golden."

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