NVIDIA snaps up software baseband maker Icera

NVIDIA logoNVIDIA has acquired its own baseband technology in the form of UK-based Icera Semiconductor. NVIDIA announced on Monday that it agreed to buy the company outright for $367 million in cash. In an internal memo to NVIDIA employees, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang wrote that the acquisition will give NVIDIA the opportunity to offer "the two most important processors that make up a modern mobile computer."

The strategy isn't unlike Intel's in this same space. Last August, Intel acquired baseband maker Infineon. Combined with its Atom application processors, Intel can offer mobile device makers a complete platform for tablets, and with power savings from its 22nm process, perhaps one day it can do the same for mobile phones.

Another competitor that offers a complete platform of application and baseband processor is Qualcomm. The company's business has primarily been in baseband chips for cell phones, but the company has increasingly been getting its ARM-based Snapdragon SoCs into Android devices in the last couple years.

Unlike Qualcomm and Infineon, however, Icera specializes in software defined radios. Icera's silicon consists of optimized, low-power processors that can be changed to operate with different radio technologies by changing the software that runs on it. Effectively, a baseband processor using Icera's DXP processor tech could be configured to work with HSPA+ technology now, and updated to work with LTE networks at a later date. (This is not unlike software upgrades that carriers can make to their towers, enabling higher speeds via newer versions of standards like HSPA.)

NVIDIA has already largely bet its future on mobile processor technology, marrying its GPU know-how with ARM CPU cores for its Tegra line of processors. Beyond mobile devices, NVIDIA will also combine high-power ARM cores and its GPUs in Project Denver, aimed at power-efficient servers and highly parallel "supercomputers." The Icera acquisition is merely another step in NVIDIA's march away from desktop chipsets and discrete GPUs.

"Our immediate plans are to accelerate Icera’s entry into voice modems, followed by introduction of 4G/LTE modem," Huang noted in the memo he sent to NVIDIA employees. "Not only is this combination strategically powerful in the market, it will also drive growth for both Tegra processors and Icera modems."

While application and baseband processors are typically separate parts today, don't be surprised when Intel, Qualcomm, and NVIDIA start offering single-chip solutions within the next few years.

"Let’s go drive the mobile computing revolution and create the future together," Huang wrote.

Source: Ars Technica


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