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Samsung Chooses Broadcom NFC Chip over NXP; Embedded Strategy Begins to Take Shape

Samsung Electronics has changed NFC technology suppliers for its flagship Galaxy S 4, switching to an NFC controller from Broadcom and a large-memory embedded chip from STMicroelectronics, running software from Oberthur Technologies, NFC Times has learned.

The new embedded chip, with a total of 1.2 megabytes of flash memory, would provide Samsung plenty of space to enable applications for what appears to be an emerging strategy by the device maker to enable multiple payment applications on its NFC phones. Samsung had used NFC technology from NXP Semiconductors for its earlier flagship phones, among others.

Samsung, in announcing the Galaxy S 4 yesterday, noted that it planned to preload “payment applets from multiple brands” on the embedded chip in coming months, not only Visa payWave.

Visa had announced a global partnership with Samsung at the Mobile World Congress that would preload its NFC application onto embedded chips in new Samsung NFC devices. Samsung confirmed that the Galaxy S 4 would be the first device to preload payWave, but the nonexclusive deal with Visa allows for other payment brands and other secure applications, including transit ticketing and access control. 

MasterCard Worldwide had also discussed preloading PayPass onto the Galaxy S 4, NFC Times has learned. When asked for comment, MasterCard said today that it was “quite excited that the S 4 will support multiple payment brands,” as announced by Samsung.

“MasterCard has enjoyed a longstanding partnership with Samsung, as both companies are committed to accelerating mobile payments,” a spokesman told NFC Times. “Since launching the MasterCard PayPass Ready certification program in May 2012, we have certified 35 Samsung devices–including the Galaxy S 4.”

The support for the GlobalPlatform 2.2 standard in the Oberthur operating system that runs on the embedded chip in the Galaxy S 4 would enable banks and other service providers and their trusted service managers to more easily remotely manage their applications in separate areas of the chip.

The applications could support different payment brands in the separate secure domains. Oberthur’s operating system takes up about 400 kilobytes or 500K, leaving the rest of the space on the 1.2MB chip for applications. Both ST and Oberthur license Mifare technology from NXP, so the embedded chip could support Mifare applications, though the present implementation may only support Mifare Classic.

It remains to be seen how strongly Samsung pushes its embedded chips in markets where major mobile operators subsidize its phones and where they plan to roll out NFC using their SIM cards as secure elements. Samsung included embedded chips in all of its Galaxy S III models, but has bowed to demands by SIM-centric operators to essentially deactivate the chips in most places.

In its first statement on its embedded chip strategy, a paragraph in one of its press releases announcing the Galaxy S 4, Samsung said that “NFC payments will be commercially available on the Galaxy S 4 on a global basis, using the embedded secure element.” But it added that the smartphone also supports the SIM as a secure element. And Samsung said that, like banks, mobile operators could also use the embedded chip in the phone to enable payment. 

Major mobile operators are unlikely to go along with the idea of using the embedded chip in the phone, since they have long-standing plans for using their SIMs to store secure applications.

NXP Loses Galaxy Flagship
The switch to the Broadcom NFC controller paired with the ST33 embedded smart card chip is a big loss for NXP Semiconductors, which had supplied Samsung with all of its NFC technology until recently. That includes the 40 million-plus unit shipments of the Galaxy S III, the popular predecessor to the forthcoming Galaxy S 4.

In a statement to NFC Times, NXP noted that it is co-inventor of NFC technology and had “known for years that other companies would follow us once the NFC market is ramping up,” said Jeff Miles, NXP’s head of mobile transactions.

“And we also believe that a growing market actually needs more than one vendor,” he said. “But NXP is well positioned to continue its lead in this more competitive and growing market.”

All told, NXP shipped 125 million NFC chips in 2012, above earlier projections, and the chip maker said it had captured 50 additional design wins for NFC devices from the 200 it announced last October. Overall, the design wins include NFC chips for such recently introduced flagship phones as the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z, both supporting Android.

But Google had already adopted Broadcom’s BCM20793 standalone NFC chip for its latest Nexus devices, the Nexus 4 smartphone and Nexus 10 tablet–the latter manufactured for it by Samsung.

Sources told NFC Times that support for GlobalPlatform 2.2 was one of the major factors Google used in making the change, which it wants for its Google Wallet. NXP does not yet support the standard in its embedded secure chips, which also carry much less memory, at present, than that ST chip.

Google also decided to incorporate the Broadcom NFC software in the 4.2 version of its Android operating system, also switching from a NXP stack, a move announced by Broadcom last November.

Samsung had adopted the Broadcom NFC chip for other recently announced Android Galaxy smartphones, the upgraded version of the Samsung Galaxy Grand, and NFC versions of the Galaxy S II Plus and Galaxy Fame.

Broadcom: ‘Pleased with Our Traction’
Like ST and Oberthur, Broadcom declined to confirm whether the Galaxy S 4 uses its NFC technology, when asked for comment by NFC Times.

Mohamed Awad, director of product marketing at Broadcom, through a spokeswoman, did say that Samsung has been “one of the leading smartphone companies adopting and promoting NFC technology,” including for nonpayment applications.

“We’re excited about the Samsung Galaxy S 4 launch and are pleased with our traction with top tier OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) like Samsung,” he said in a statement. “While we cannot confirm whether the NFC chip they’re using is a Broadcom chip, the fact that Samsung has adopted NFC in its flagship superphone further validates the value of NFC technology and signals the start of mass adoption.”   

The design wins by Broadcom for the NFC versions of other Galaxy devices, along with Google’s adoption of the Broadcom NFC software stack for Android and Samsung’s use of Broadcom’s other short-range connectivity chips, for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, among other factors, makes it not so surprising that Samsung switched from NXP to Broadcom for its new flagship phone, said Mark Hung, vice president for wireless research at U.S.-based Gartner.

“Broadcom now has a few things working in its favor in the NFC market: a proven product, used in last year's Nexus 4, a GlobalPlatform 2.2-compliant solution with the ST-Oberthur partnership, a connectivity software stack from a single supplier, and a path to eventual chipset integration,” Hung told NFC Times.

That chipset integration refers to Broadcom’s plans to incorporate NFC in its new combo wireless chip, the BCM43341, which also supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and FM radio. Samsung used the previous version of the combo chip, BCM4334, without NFC, in its Galaxy S III. It is likely using a new combo chip from Broadcom, the BCM4335, with high-speed Wi-Fi, supporting the 802.11ac standard, in the Galaxy S 4, but also without NFC built into it. It would be using a separate Broadcom standalone NFC chip in the Galaxy S 4.

Hung noted that such standalone NFC chip makers as NXP and Inside Secure have prepared for the day when most handset makers would get their NFC technology as part of combo wireless chips. That’s why the chip makers are focusing on their secure elements.

But as long as Broadcom perceives NXP as a competitor for its NFC technology, it is unlikely to work with NXP’s secure elements, unless a device maker specifically requests the NXP secure chip, say observers.

If Samsung, the largest supplier of smartphones worldwide, has decided to adopt Broadcom NFC technology for all of its NFC devices, that could be a problem for NXP.

NXP would have to rely on smaller Android and Windows Phone 8 device makers for business. BlackBerry uses NFC technology from Inside Secure, along with an embedded chip from Infineon Technologies.

NXP, like Inside, has already said it will focus on secure elements in the future. Later this year, NXP plans to introduce a new embedded chip, which will pack roughly 1 megabyte of memory, among other features, including support for GlobalPlatform 2.2, sources said.

NXP hopes to win business for the secure element from makers of smartphone processor chips that are introducing their own NFC controllers, including MediaTek and Qualcomm. Intel, which is seeking to build its market share in the mobile device market, already uses NXP secure elements in its smartphone reference device designs.

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