Leading chip vendor Broadcom has revamped its NFC offering with a new chipset family. The company has upped its game in the NFC market following the acquisition of Innovision Research & Technology last year. The move gives the NFC chipset market a shot of much-needed optimism. Leading chip vendor NXP recently downgraded its estimate for the number of NFC-enabled handsets which will be shipped in 2011.
Broadcom is promising to make things hot for the incumbent NFC vendors, not just NXP but also for rivals such as Samsung and Inside Secure which have a share of the market. And there are others such as Texas Instruments which only launched its first NFC product in August who are now competitors too.
The first handsets running Broadcom’s NFC chipsets will launch in mid-2012, says the company. It will not name the handset vendors with whom it is working, although in the past it has supplied chipsets to Apple, Dell and HP.
At the moment, NXP is either delivering to, or has announced design wins with, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and ZTE. It also supplied the NFC chips for the Samsung-manufactured Google Nexus S. Sprint users equipped with this handset are the only ones at present who can access the newly launched Google Wallet service.
Broadcom will have a fight to win over such vendors but, given the youth of the market, time is on its side. Some observers are backing its chances. Gartner research director Mark Hung estimated that the vendor could bag 20 percent of the NFC market within a year, according to comments on Bloomberg.
And Broadcom is talking a good game. Its new chipset will reduce power consumption by “more than 90 percent, uses 40 percent fewer components and has a 40 percent smaller board area, making it the smallest and most power efficient NFC solution on the market”, says the company.
Low power consumption is crucial, according to Broadcom. Interviewed by eWeek, company vice president Craig Ochikubo said it had “learned our lesson with Bluetooth in the early days when people turned their devices off because it just drained the battery. For NFC to have “any degree of utility” it has to be on 100 percent of the time, continued Ochikubo, which is an interesting point.
Also, says the same article, the company’s NFC chips will support “field power harvesting” which allow the chip to draw energy from the surrounding environment so it can support transactions even if the handset’s battery is dead. Google Wallet does not offer this capability because Google has turned off the field harvest function for security reasons, it says.
And the company has a bigger strategy in mind which will move beyond mobile payments and ticketing, usually envisaged as the first ports of call for NFC. The aim is to embrace what Broadcom terms “radically simplified connectivity” between mobile handsets and other devices such as Bluetooth headsets and Wifi-enabled digital televisions. The proliferation of NFC might act as inspiration for a range of new services. Broadcom is promising big. Let’s see if it can deliver.
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