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Broadcom set to surf the NFC wave

Demand for Near Field Communications (NFC) technology has reached a point of inflexion, according to Broadcom vice president Craig Ochikubo, and that is one of the reasons behind the company's recent $47.5million acquisition of Innovision Research and Technology.

"There are some big things happening in the sector," he claimed. "The NFC Forum has done a good job on promoting interoperability and there are now a lot of contactless payment terminals being deployed. Meanwhile, some of the initial battles between card companies, banks and carriers have been resolved and these are now not a block to deployment of NFC technology."

Innovision has been involved with NFC since the technology's early days, creating a range of 'tag' products and developing IP for integration in other devices. It was also involved with O2's recent trial of the technology on the London Underground (see picture). Broadcom, meanwhile, has been seeing growing interest in NFC from handset developers and operators alike. "This, along with discussions with customers, told us it was the right time to make the acquisition and to drive the market for NFC," said Ochikubo.

Despite having a wide range of communications technology in house, Broadcom didn't have too much in the way of NFC expertise. While the technology is deployed in the BCM5880, a unified security hub for pcs and related products, Ochikubo said that getting NFC to the level of integration which Broadcom wanted would have required 'a bit more work'.

According to Ochikubo, Broadcom had been in discussions with Innovision for some time before the offer to buy was made. "During our discussions, we realised Innovision had world class products which fit well with the Broadcom portfolio. When you combine that with the fact that Innovision has a talented team able to work with Broadcom's engineers, it became obvious that the acquisition had to be made."

With the integration process still in its early days, there are no product announcements as yet – Ochikubo said these will come 'early in 2011'. "What we're doing at the moment is having discussions about optimising our product road map because we now have technology we can use in other products."

In the long term, it's likely that Broadcom will integrate NFC technology into single chip products – so called 'combo chips'. "We've spent time focusing on integration and addressing the challenges associated with coexistence of various communications technologies on one piece of silicon," he continued. "That offers advantages to the user, including lower power, lower cost and smaller size, and becomes an obvious step."

Initial offerings may address such applications as headset pairing and keyboard pairing. "It will help us enable links that can't be achieved any other way," Ochikubo noted.

NFC will also help Broadcom address new markets and to improve its position in existing sectors, Ochikubo concluded. "It will help us to combine a lot of existing Broadcom technologies and to accelerate the development and deployment of NFC across a broad range of platforms."

Graham Pitcher

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