Last year NVIDIA purchased Icera, a company that specializes in wireless modems, for $367 million. The reason for the acquisition was simple: NVIDIA wants to make system on chips for mobile phones that also come bundled with cellular connectivity. That goal is something that Qualcomm executed back in 2009 when the first smartphones with their Snapdragon SoC started hitting the market. Earlier this year we filed a report that said 4 out of every 10 smartphones and tablets that aren’t made by Apple have a Qualcomm chip inside. If that isn’t a testament to the success of the idea to combine a CPU, GPU, and baseband on one chip, then we don’t know what is. Anyway, Icera aside, there’s one thing NVIDIA needs to do before they take on Qualcomm. It’s dirty, but it’s necessary. They need to buy patents. According to Retuers, NVIDIA bough 500 patents from IPWireless for an undisclosed sum of money. Intellectual Ventures (IV) helped NVIDIA buy those patents, with each company getting half of the patents in question. IV will license their newly acquired patents to NVIDIA, though the terms were not discussed.
Does this news mean NVIDIA is closer to taking on Qualcomm? Not really. Both NVIDIA and Qualcomm rely on TSMC to make their chips, so they’ll both be equal when it comes to the physical aspects of their products. And as for chip design, Qualcomm designs their cores from scratch, whereas NVIDIA licenses cores from ARM and then puts them next to their custom designed GPU. Looking at some of the benchmark numbers for a Tegra 3 compared to a Snapdragon S4, it boggles the mind that Qualcomm’s dual core solution can run laps around NVIDIA’s quad core chip.
Things can change though, and 2013 will be the year that NVIDIA finally starts selling chips with integrated 4G LTE. By then Qualcomm will have their quad core chips out on the market, which means this will be a fun race to watch.