ThinkSmallCell interview with Raouf Halim, CEO Mindspeed, who recently acquired Picochip

HalimMindspeed now has a established position as vendor of baseband chipsets for both 3G femtocells and the emerging LTE small cells. Six months after acquiring Picochip, I asked Raouf Halim, CEO, what has changed with the transition, whether the Picochip product line will continue and how closely the products will be integrated.

It's now about 6 months since the Mindspeed acquired Picochip. Is the organizational change now complete?

What attracted us to Picochip was the complementary scope of the two businesses. While Mindspeed are very strong in the 4G space and had been making great inroads in the LTE small cell market, Picochip have been clear market leaders for HSPA femtocells since their inception. We said it was a marriage made in heaven, and are very pleased with the outcome.

We now have around 700 employees of which about half are based in the US. We've retained Picochip's development centre in Bath, England and Beijing, China.

The transition itself has gone smoothly. One of the key values of Picochip was the leadership team, and several have joined us in more senior positions – such as Doug Pulley (CTO Wireless Division), Rupert Baines (VP Strategic Marketing and Marcoms) and David Purle (VP Wireless Engineering). We have a single product management and product marketing team. Development teams for our core competencies report to a single Head of Engineering.

We've revised our roadmaps early on in the process, and everyone is focused on the task at hand.

Will we see the Picochip brand disappear?

The Picochip brand continues to be well known and valued – a brand equity that has been built up over the last decade. We continue to use it in our literature, marketing and the nomenclature of our products. For example, the PCxxxx chipset series will continue to be known as such.

Inevitably over the long term, we will see this become more integrated and blurred, so that after a few years it will be much less visible.

Are you continuing to invest in the Picochip designs?

We're now on the 3rd generation of the Picochip small cell baseband design – the PC3000 series – and this has been very well received in the market. It's both low cost and feature rich, and powers a large proportion of 3G femtocells commercially in use today.

We are committed to support and to supply these chips, and we will continue to invest in this product line for as long as there is market demand. There are no plans to phase out the PC series t's far too early to say if or when that would happen.

What form do you see LTE small cells taking? Is there strong demand for dual mode 3G/LTE products?

Operators will initially deploy LTE as public infrastructure for the first few years. Larger macrocell basestations will provide initial LTE coverage, and soon after LTE small cells will provide the capacity and local coverage required.

This is what our current Transcede product line has been used for to date.

We are definitely seeing demand for dual mode 3G/LTE designs. To address this, we've ported the proven Picochip 3G PHY onto the Transcede 2150 and 2200 chipsets which become dual mode 3G/LTE. We expect dual-mode & multi-mode small cell to be the predominant type: there are huge advantages of having things together for CapEx and most importantly for OpEx and TCO.

Do you expect there to be residential LTE femtocells in the future?

Today's residential requirement is satisfied by 3G, and the higher speeds of LTE would require faster broadband internet connections. However, these are widely available in some countries which also have strong demand for the latest technology. There is already a distinct market for residential LTE femtocells in certain Asia-Pacific countries, especially Japan and South Korea.

In the long term, we see interest in dual mode 3G/LTE residential femtocells.

And finally... what is your take on the high volumes forecast by analysts?

There's no doubt this is a growing market, and it's heading in the right direction but it is always difficult to give accurate estimates. We are seeing the giants of Taiwanese ODMs (Original Device Manufacturers) such as Foxcomm and Gemtek entering the business, and these can really drive the costs down and volumes up.

As always with electronic devices, the volume of product shipped will determine the unit price.

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