Who Is Doing SoCs (System on a Chip) for Smartphones?

When looking back a couple of years it wasn't all that uncommon to find the baseband modem, the application processor and the graphics processor in different chips in a smartphone. Take the Nokia N8 for example. Obviously having three chips is quite inefficient as they take up space on the smartphone board and need to be fine tuned to work with each other. Both disadvantages dissapear, however, when all three components are included in a single chip. So who is doing that today? The following manufacturers come to mind:

  • Qualcomm with their Snapdragon platform. They have everything, the modem (obviously), they have their own application processor design (Scorpion and Krait) based on ARM, and their Adreno GPU (based on assets bought from AMD a couple of years ago).
  • ST-Ericsson: Their NovaThor platform consisting of their Thor modem and Nova CPU+GPU based on an ARM-Cortex design and PowerVR graphics.
  • Nvidia: Originally coming from the graphics domain, they have enriched their portfolio with an all in one SOC with that scales up to quad-core ARM Cortex CPU with an additional CPU for low power / low processing speed operation when the display is switched off and only background tasks being services. They don't have the modem integrated at the moment but with their recent purchase of Icera, that's also only a matter of time.
  • Intel: Not quite on the market yet, but they have their modem through the purchase of Infineon and a (hopefully) low power (enough) CPU with their new Medfield Atom based design and their own graphics processor.

All others like Texas Instruments with their OMAP platform or Samsung with they Exynos are missing the modem, so they are not complete. Combinations are for example a Samung CPU + GPU chip combined with a Qualcomm modem.

Am I missing someone in the CPU+GPU+modem list?

7 thoughts on “Who Is Doing SoCs (System on a Chip) for Smartphones?”

  1. Marvell does it as well.
    MediaTek also – for the low end of the market where feature phones live. I assume they are working on Android as well.

    I am not sure that it makes such a difference today. The most successful phone in the world (iPhone) doesn’t use a complete SoC…

    Smartphone vendors are used to connect a modem to an application chip. They are doing it for almost a decade now, and the results aren’t bad at all. The operating systems of the modem and the application chip are also different, and their integration points are relatively standardized, so the complexity of combining them together isn’t high.

  2. Added to ‘all of the above’, Huawei/Futurewei, RockChip, Sequans and a few I can’t recollect right now.

    The market appears flooded but that can be considered as that norm due to the broadened nature of LTE development. The field is likely to go through the expansion, maturity and consolidation phases indicative of new fields of semiconductor development.The consolidation phase is likely a few years off.

    Off-hand comments:
    MediTek appears to be coming on strong in developing markets. Their newer chips, including the MT6575, sport enough processing power for low-mid range challengers to leading Smartphones when combined with the capacitive-touch screens, higher resolution cameras, etc. This has already resulted in devices that are ‘no longer just toys’. The gap between the leading edge and the lower market tier devices has narrowed and will likely continue to do so.

    Renesas appears to be overtaken by events in and outside of Japan: defection of partners to form other alliances appears to be derailing the intent to establish Renesas as an industry leading supplier of LTE SoCs. The rapid pace of SoC development outside of Japan combined with rapidly declining prices has led to apparent increase in outsourcing from other countries.

    Broadcom remains an enigma: their forte is more in broadband enablement than mainstream wireless. One niche that might seem apparent is in microcells rather than direct competition in the mobile device space. If they are going to compete in mobile device race, they had better get with it or that boat will have left harbor without them.

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