Broadcom CEO on Low-cost Android Phones, Free Tablets and the Promise of Russian Satellites

Published on February 17, 2011
by Ina Fried

If the headline doesn’t make it clear, I covered a lot of ground in a chat I had here in Barcelona with Scott McGregor, CEO of chipmaker Broadcom.

For those who don’t know Broadcom, it is an Orange County, Calif.-based company that makes chips that go into all kinds of communications gear, from cable modems to cellphones to set-top boxes. It has steadily expanded its range through a steady stream of acquisitions.

Just at this week’s Mobile World Congress alone, the company announced plans for a whole range of new chips, including a processor that the company said should help Google in its goal of driving Android down into lower price points.

“The chips we’ve announced allow for Android phones to cover the gamut,” McGregor told Mobilized. While rivals such as Nvidia and Qualcomm plan ever more powerful chips for the high end of the phone and tablet markets, Broadcom is looking to crack into the Android processor market by driving down cost.

The key, he said, is that its processors, while perhaps not yet competitive at the ultra-high end of the smartphone market, integrate more functions than do rival chips. More stuff on a single chip means lower prices, and with Broadcom’s latest chip, Android devices should be able to stretch all the way down to the middle of the feature phone market.

Touring the company’s booth, McGregor pointed to a number of other interesting projects the company has going on in the wireless realm. For instance, the company is working on chips that expand the potential for location-based services by tapping more types of satellites. While GPS uses only American whirlybirds, data is also available now from Russian, Japanese and European satellites. The company is also working on technologies to improve location data inside buildings where satellites typically are of no help.

Another interesting area is in tablets. While much of the attention is on the iPad or its would-be rivals, McGregor said there is an emerging market for lower-end home units that can be given away by service providers like Comcast as another screen for users to consume content. While free tablets haven’t hit the U.S., McGregor said British Telecom and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo are among those offering such products.

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