NVIDIA has just announced that its Icera 410 LTE modem has been tested and validated by AT&T to operate on its network. Although this is a great step for NVIDIA, don’t expect to see a Tegra 3 chip with integrated 4G LTE anytime soon. NVIDIA’s own words are very cautious as the company says that “validation with AT&T is an achievement that paves the way for NVIDIA Icera-powered LTE devices on the AT&T network through this year and next”. NVIDIA currently has customers for its Icera modem, including ZTE.
While NVIDIA raises the possibility that Icera-powered LTE devices will appear on AT&T, there is no definitive confirmation that they will. In all likelihood, we would expect 4G LTE Tegra 3 tablets rather than smartphones as tablets can accommodate an external modem in their design. Handset makers have proven that they have an appetite for integrated LTE modems (smaller, more power-efficient), and that’s precisely why “quad-core” phones like the HTC One X ships in the USA with a SnapDragon S4 dual-core chip from Qualcomm.
If you are not familiar with NVIDIA’s Icera modem, it has a very particular design that makes it programmable, which means that NVIDIA will not have to build as many chips as the competition because its design is highly adaptable. This is a potentially great advantage that has yet to be proven in the market. All in all, this strategy is NVIDIA’s best shot at competing with huge companies like Qualcomm which have much more engineering resources to build many variants of chips for specific markets. NVIDIA bought a company called Icera last year to acquire modem technology, one of the building blocks of communication devices.