Chip manufacturer Qualcomm has made a stand in the RF front-end chipset market, according to a speech given by President Cristiano Amon at CES 2018, where it will be competing directly with its aggressive would-be suitor Broadcom. Qualcomm's bid to get into the market front-end radio systems has reportedly already resulted in deals with Google, HTC, Sony, LG, and Samsung. Amon said that Qualcomm's strategy is essentially to use the complexity of forthcoming mobile 5G network systems as means to sell a system that combines RF with all of the other parts of a smartphone or network adapter's radio chipset, an area where Qualcomm's existing expertise in radio systems will come in handy. If Qualcomm's bid to disrupt the market is successful, it will significantly affect Broadcom, among others in the field.
RF systems are everything in a given wireless chipset that sits between the outer antenna and the digital baseband system, which is where the signal is converted. In Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 chip, for example, the Snapdragon X12 LTE modem is the digital baseband system. The antenna is built by the smartphone maker, and usually manifests as the plastic lines found on metal-bodied phones. There are wires, converters, and other gear between the antenna and the baseband system that make up the front-end system, catching the signal from the antenna and transferring it to the baseband system while simultaneously converting it to a format that the baseband system can in turn transform into data.
The move comes on the heels of Broadcom's attempted hostile takeover of Qualcomm, trying to either buy up a majority stake or simply buy Qualcomm outright in order to control the company. Presumably, this sort of convergence is exactly what Broadcom was planning. While such a business plan could certainly be a feasible future outcome for Qualcomm's business plan regardless of other circumstances, it's hard to overlook the fact that the company is still in the process of warding off what essentially amounts to an attack by Broadcom, and is now moving into a sector of the market where Broadcom has made a comfortable home for itself, fully intent on causing disruption.