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Nokia Partnership Could Help Renesas Expand Outside Japan

by Sravan Kundojjala | Jul 06, 2010

Nokia announced today that Renesas will acquire its wireless modem technologies business for $200 million and the transaction is expected to close before the end of 2010. Renesas has offered GSM PAs and transceivers for the mainstream GSM market for more than a decade but lacked basebands. More recently, Renesas entered the baseband market with W-CDMA basebands for Japan and plans to provide complete chipsets and PAs for the global market. Renesas merged with NEC Electronics in April 2010 and most recently joined the Symbian Foundation.

Previously Nokia transferred its 3G IC design operations to ST-Ericsson, licensed its W-CDMA/HSPA modem technology to Intel and collaborated with Infineon for LTE RF transceivers development. This announcement raises a question whether Nokia will continue to own the IP and earn royalties for legacy basebands, GSM through W-CDMA / HSPA+?

This is a significant development considering Renesas' lack of baseband design-wins outside Japan. Strategy Analytics estimates that Renesas and NEC Electronics cumulatively held just 1.3 percent of the baseband market (in revenue terms) in 2009. Renesas originally licensed baseband technology from Japanese network operator NTT docomo to produce the SH-Mobile G series baseband processors, which also integrate Renesas' application processing technology. Most recently Renesas sampled a fourth generation of SH-Mobile G baseband processors, the SH-G4, which supports the HSPA air interface.

This partnership with Nokia provides Renesas with three different sources for fundamental 3G modem IP, NTT docomo, NEC Electronics and Nokia. This situation is similar to ST-Ericsson's, which also has three different 3G modem IP sources, EMP, NXP and Nokia. It appears that Renesas will use Nokia's 3G modem technology to compete for design-wins outside Japan. The combined entity of Renesas and NEC Electronics now boasts Fujitsu, Sharp, NEC, Sony Ericsson and Panasonic as its baseband customers . Renesas' expansion into the global baseband market would increase competition in the marketplace.

This move comes at a time when the 3G market is growing, accounting for close to one third of global cellular baseband revenues in 2009. Nokia's existing 3G chipset suppliers include Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Broadcom, ST-Ericsson and Icera. It is worth noting that the first Nokia 3G phones based on Qualcomm, Broadcom and ST-Ericsson's basebands are expected to debut in late 2010 or early 2011. Infineon is noticeably absent in this list although Infineon is a key GSM/GPRS/EDGE baseband supplier to Nokia.

We don't expect the first products based on this partnership to debut until late 2012, the time when Texas Instruments completes its baseband exit. In 2013 Nokia's 3G chipset suppliers list would include Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson, Broadcom, Icera, Renesas and potentially Infineon and Intel. While Nokia can afford to have multiple suppliers considering its scale we could see some further acquisitions and mergers among these baseband suppliers.

Today’s announcement is likely to affect several companies...

• ST-Ericsson: ST-E will probably be worst hit by this announcement as it brings into doubt the strong relationship ST-E has had with Nokia over the past 3 years. ST-E has spent the last couple of years consolidating the 3G technologies it acquired from EMP and NXP with Nokia's 3G IP into its flagship processor the U8500 which is expected to appear in handsets at the end of 2010. Nokia will obviously be working with Renesas in future HSPA/LTE projects, thus potentially diluting the relationship with ST-E.

• Qualcomm: Qualcomm has enjoyed a much more positive relationship with Nokia during 2009/2010 since the companies resolved their long-standing IPR legal battles. Qualcomm is expected to supply chipsets to Nokia for its upcoming W-CDMA/LTE products. Nokia's stronger relationship with Renesas may now affect that.

• Infineon: Why did Nokia not choose Infineon? Nokia and Infineon already have a close relationship around LTE RF transceivers, but Nokia may have considered Infineon's expertise in HSPA and LTE modems to be too weak.

• NTT docomo: Renesas currently licenses 3G modem IP from NTT docomo for use in its SH-Mobile G processors which are desgined into handsets from Sharp and Fujitsu. Renesas' strong relationship with Nokia now makes it more likely that Renesas will use NTT docomo's IP for products aimed at the Japanese market, and will employ Nokia's HSPA/LTE IP in new chipsets for us in Nokia handsets. It will also allow Renesas to expand its client base beyond Japanese waters.

Previous Post: ST-Ericsson’s baseband business had a difficult year in 2009 | Next Post: MediaTek Plans for the Future with an LTE IP License Agreement with NTT docomo

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