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Huawei Surprises with World’s First LTE Cat 6 Apps Processor

by Sravan Kundojjala | Jun 25, 2014

HiSilicon, Huawei’s in-house silicon business unit, has launched its first LTE-integrated applications processors Kirin 910 and Kirin 920 in 2014. HiSilicon already designs slim modems (Balong series) and stand-alone applications processors (K3V2 series), but this integrated product helps it to gain a significant advantage over the competition. HiSilicon is the world’s first LTE Cat 6 apps processor vendor with its Kirin 920 while Qualcomm and Intel’s Cat 6 LTE chips are slim modems only at the moment.

The Kirin 920, designed in 28 nm, integrates multi-mode Cat 6 LTE modem, quad Cortex-A15 / Quad Cortex-A7 big.Little octa-core CPU, ARM Mali T628 GPU and Tensilica HiFi3 DSP. The Kirin 910, designed in 28 nm, integrates multi-mode Cat 4 LTE modem, quad Cortex-A9 CPU, ARM Mali 450 GPU and Tensilica HiFi2 DSP. The Kirin 910 featured in multiple smartphone and tablet products from Huawei and the Kirin 920 featured in Huawei’s latest Honor 6 Android smartphone.

With these products HiSilicon joins the commercial LTE apps processor vendor club, which includes Broadcom, Marvell, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Samsung. Broadcom, however, has announced its intention to sell or shut down its baseband business. MediaTek will introduce its commercial LTE apps processor products in Q3 2014 and Intel will release its SoFIA LTE chip in the first half of 2015. Spreadtrum is also likely to introduce its LTE apps processor later this year or early next year.

Like Apple and Samsung, Huawei is also now focusing on vertical integration and its network infrastructure relationships with operators have probably helped Huawei to bring multi-mode LTE 6 chips ahead of many of its baseband competitors. We estimate HiSilicon had less than 1 percent share in baseband and smartphone apps processor markets in 2013. However, an increasing percentage of Huawei’s smartphone shipments now carry HiSilicon’s chips, which bodes well.

While HiSilicon LTE chips are unlikely to threaten Qualcomm’s market share any time soon, it is likely that these chips could affect Marvell, MediaTek and Spreadtrum’s LTE chip supply ambitions to some extent. In our view, Qualcomm is well-differentiated with its LTE basebands, associated RF and connectivity technologies. We believe Huawei will continue to source LTE chips from Qualcomm for flagship phones outside China. Huawei’s LTE apps processor chips also validate Broadcom’s decision to exit the baseband market. It remains to be seen whether Apple, like Huawei and Samsung will design its own LTE chips.

Sravan Kundojjala (@Skundojjala)

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