This article is from WeChat official account:Semiconductor Industry Observation (ID: icbank) , author: Du Qin DQ, title figure from: vision China

Nowadays, custom chips have become a bet for large technology companies. Apple’s M1 chip has proven its potential in terms of processing power, and now Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are building custom processors for their own devices. Especially with the prosperity of cloud computing and data centers, traditional chips can no longer meet demand, and corresponding chip manufacturers have been “disgusted” or gradually abandoned due to factors such as cost. Broadcom is one of the victims.

Broadcom’s business focuses on producing wireless chips for Apple’s smartphones such as the iPhone and other devices. It also produces semiconductors for broadband communications, networking, storage and industrial applications. In addition, its infrastructure software business in the fields of data center, mainframe and network security is also growing.

Broadcom’s business is mainly divided into two parts: semiconductor solutions and infrastructure software. Both of its businesses performed well in 2020. The semiconductor division accounted for 74% of the company’s total sales, with revenue of $4.908 billion, an increase of 17% over the same period last year. The infrastructure software business achieved revenue of US$1.747 billion, an increase of 5%.

Since the start of research, Broadcom’s position has gradually weakened

Apple rejected Broadcom because of its price

For more than ten years, Broadcom has been Apple’s main supplier, and its components can be traced back to flagship products such as iPhone 3G.Products, including radio frequency components, touch screen controllers and wireless charging modules, to assist these products to connect to cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

Every year, Apple adopts innovative technologies in the field of radio frequency. The company used the latest and most advanced filter and packaging technology in its 2018 mid-range flagship product iPhone Xr, and doubled purchases from Broadcom and Qorvo. It is understood that this was a measure taken by Apple to reduce the BOM table (bill of materials), because the iPhone X is relatively expensive. Make certain adjustments to the price of mobile phones.

Product and price advantages promote Qorvo to become the next beneficiary of Apple’s iPhone. In 2018, Qorvo provided a pin-to-pin compatible Broadcom AFEM-8092 or QM76018 module for the Xr version of the iPhone. In this special version, Qorvo integrates the same advanced features as Broadcom. The first is the low noise amplifier (LNA) on the SOI substrate. The second is the EMI micro-shielding inside the PCB substrate to reduce the interference between the molds. Thanks to all these innovations, Qorvo is able to provide a device similar to Broadcom in terms of performance, and it is a device with very low input/output(I/O) Low-cost components with a number of connections.

However, in the 2019 iPhone 11 series and 2020 iPhone 12 series, Broadcom is the only supplier of multiple versions of the same module for Apple’s latest Apple iPhone series. In 2019, Apple adopted Broadcom’s AFEM-8100. 2020 AFEM-8200 was used in the year.

Apple’s self-developed chip is Sima Zhao’s heart, and its strategy of pursuing independence will not change. Following the iPhone’s A-series processors, the Mac’s M-series processors, and baseband chips, radio frequency components are another important strategy for Apple’s autonomy of key components. On December 14 last year, the Taiwan Economic Daily reported that Apple was rumored to be developing its own radio frequency (RF) components and will design their own All of the RF components are handed over to the leading gallium arsenide foundry for stable production. Apple directly binds Mao’s production capacity and no longer places orders through chip design factories such as Broadcom and Qorvo.

Another one is unlimited charging. At that time, iPhone X with unlimited charging function also used Broadcom’s wireless charging controller and power amplifier module. But also due to price and other reasons, it was replaced by ST.

Because at the end of 2017, ST launched a new generation of wireless charging chips, and the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), a manager that supports the Qi standard, introduced the Extended Power Profile standard for faster charging. By increasing the maximum charging power from 5W to 15W, the charging speed of mobile devices is doubled. As the first wireless charging controller chips in the market that support the Qi Extended Power standard, ST’s STWBC-EP has the highest energy efficiency in its class, with a standby power consumption of only 16mW, and can wirelessly transmit 80% of the input power to the powered device.

In recent years, Apple has been improving its chip design business to further differentiate its devices. It designed and developed the H series Bluetooth chip used in AirPods and the W series WiFi chip used in Apple Watch, instead of buying it from Broadcom.

However, Apple has not completely abandoned Broadcom. In early 2020, Broadcom announced that it had signed a long-term contract with Apple to provide Apple with various “wireless components and modules” until 2023. In addition to other consumer devices, Broadcom It also sells integrated WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS chips and RF components used in smartphones. Broadcom said that these contracts apply to new products that Apple will launch in the next three and a half years.

Amazon began to develop its own network chip

In the process of gradually transforming from an online bookstore to a cloud computing giant, Amazon has become a global computer chip powering data centerOne of the biggest buyers. With the expansion of its cloud business, the company is increasingly focusing on designing its own chips instead of buying them.

In the past few years, Amazon has designed its own chips to improve the performance of servers in its cloud data centers and the performance of artificial intelligence services it sells to customers. For example, Amazon previously cooperated with MediaTek to develop chips for its Echo smart speaker products, aimed at making Alexa respond faster. It also has a custom machine learning chip called Trainium, which will soon be available to AWS customers.

Now, in an important step towards controlling its key technical components, according to The Information, Amazon is developing customized chips for its hardware network switches. In the past, Amazon’s switches mainly relied on purchasing chips from Broadcom. If Amazon succeeds here, Broadcom may be marginalized. This is also one of the purposes of Amazon’s acquisition of Israeli chip manufacturing company Annapurna Labs for US$350 million in 2015.

It is said that these custom chips can help Amazon improve its internal infrastructure and AWS, and can also help it solve bottlenecks and problems in its own infrastructure, especially if they also customize the software that runs on them. The Information quoted the machine learning software (currently running on the Annapurna chip) provided by Amazon. They may even provide some previously unavailable service provided.

Although Amazon may not be a giant in the field of smartphones or PCs, it is a giant in cloud computing. This seems to be where Amazon is focusing on putting new chips into use.

Microsoft, Facebook, Google may follow

In the field of network chips, it is expected that cloud vendors such as Microsoft, Google, and Facebook will slowly keep up with Amazon. If they start to develop network chips on their own, they will inevitably erode some markets that originally belonged to Broadcom.

In these three companies, Microsoft has already begun to show signs. According to foreign media reports, Microsoft secretly established a chip research and development center in Israel as early as last year, which also invested in the research and development of network chips and other products. According to the Times of Israel, the investment will be between US$1 billion and US$1.5 billion. micro-Soft said last year that the move is mainly to provide services to Israeli customers, first with Azure and then Office 365. Microsoft also recently accelerated the recruitment of chip engineers.

Google is also gaining momentum. Google has paid more and more attention to chips over the years and has hired former Intel executive Uri Frank to lead its custom chip department. Uri Frank has more than two decades of experience in custom CPU design and delivery. “I look forward to building a team in Israel while accelerating Google Cloud’s innovation in computing infrastructure,” Frank shared on LinkedIn.

Custom chips have always been an indispensable part of Google’s strategy to build efficient computing systems. In addition, designing custom server chips will help Google Cloud compete with Microsoft Azure and AWS. The company plans to shift from buying motherboard components from different vendors to building its own “system on a chip” or SoC. Google has been purchasing CPUs, networks, storage devices, custom accelerators and memory from different vendors. They believe that instead of integrating the components on the motherboard, it is better to design it as an SoC, place multiple functions on the same chip or integrate multiple chips into a package.

About five years ago, Google introduced the Tensor processing unit (TPU) chip. These custom-designed chips used to drive deep neural networks have revolutionized the AI ​​industry. Later, the company introduced the video processing unit (VPU) and OpenTitan to make calculations cheaper and more secure. Google has also designed chips such as Titan M and Pixel Neural Core for its mobile phones. Successful precedents in these areas will bring strong confidence to Google in the research and development of key components.

Facebook began to seek to design its own chips as early as 2018, when it was mainly focused on AI and Oculus VR headsets. As Amazon, Microsoft and other vendors find their way first, Facebook will also try to catch up in this area.

Competition is rising, Broadcom is beset on all sides

In addition to Broadcom’s customers who initiated the trend of self-developed custom chips, Broadcom has also received support from Intel, Nvidia, Marvell, Cisco and startups in the field of chips such as networks and switches.Innovium’s competition cannibalize, especially Innovium, which was born out of Broadcom, has gained a lot of Broadcom’s market share in recent years. Here, we mainly elaborate on the competitive situation between Cisco and Innovium.

Cisco chips are sold out

Cisco is a routing pioneer and a chip giant in the switch industry. In December 2019, Cisco (Cisco) suddenly announced the sale of chips, and they launched A Silicon One Q100 router was created. As a routing pioneer and switch giant, Cisco’s move will undoubtedly compete with Broadcom’s two businesses. Compared with competitors, Silicon One chip has higher performance and lower power consumption.

According to Cisco researcher and Silicon One series ASIC architect Rakesh Chopra, the secret of the Silicon One architecture lies in its name, which is reflected in its single, unified architecture that covers both switching and routing, as well as all All functions of the device. In terms of building routing and switching chips, this is a very fundamental change. Unlike Broadcom and other chips on the market, Silicon One Q100 has a fully scalable architecture that can contain many slices that can be linearly expanded with technology nodes. We can fully share all of our memory without having to copy the memory state.

The chip has been commercialized in Cisco 8000 series routers. So far, Rakesh Chopra believes this is Cisco’s only product based on Silicon One Chippery.

In the next 15 months, Cisco has successively launched nine different roles in the network switch and router ASIC, which is a cooperation with Broadcom and other suppliers and its switch and router manufacturing alliance A good start, Cisco has put a lot of effort into this in the past ten years.

Chopra previously told The Next Platform: “In the recent announcement, we did not announce any Cisco products that use these chips. We are an independent organization within Cisco. Our charter is to develop Silicon One and alternative business models. “It is not clear how many hyperscale producers, cloud builders, and switch OEM/ODM manufacturers may use or consider Silicon One ASICs. But everyone is talking about it.

Innovium, a start-up company, is looking forward to it

To some extent, Innovium is the only company in the market that has won a significant share from Broadcom so far. It claims to account for 23% of global 50GB/S “SERDES”(serializer/deserializer) shipments, which is a high-end network switch The number of ports usually used on the Internet. In contrast, Broadcom is 76%, and all other network switching chip suppliers are only 1%. From this point of view, Innovium is the only competitor of Broadcom.

Look at its product adoption again: Innovium’s Teralynx 7 launched in April 2018 has been resold by many OEMs and ODMs, including Cisco, which has built it into the Nexus 3400-S switch. In the world’s “top 50” hyperscale applications, more than ten of cloud builders and service providers use Teralynx 7 ASICs in their switches. In addition, two of the top five hyperscalers and cloud builders are Use Teralynx 7 ASIC. Cisco’s NX-OS runs on this chip, Microsoft’s SONiC switch operating system also runs on this chip, and many local network operating systems in the hyper-extended program also run on this chip.

Innovium was co-founded by three former Broadcom engineering executives. Innovium believes that the transformation of the network market from enterprise and telecom data centers to the cloud is a transformation of decades. Facing the future, the chips that run the network will all focus on the cloud and the edge. Compared with the chips that Broadcom has sold over the years, this transition requires a new type of chip, which creates opportunities for challengers.

“Past, These switches are more complex switches based on the chassis. Looking to the future, they are all compact fixed switches. “Imagine a big box,” Sanyal said. They will occupy 10, 12, and 16 slots in a data center telecom rack and be compressed into a “1U” pizza box design. This is the new standard, especially in “hyperscalers”. “In, cloud computing giants like Amazon, they want to buy compact, simplified boxes that can be exchanged without a line card. These cloud customers represent increasingly important buyers in the online market.” Innovium marketing department head Amit Sanyal said before,

Innovium has also followed Broadcom’s pace in recent years. For example, after Broadcom launched the “Tomahawk 4” StrataXGS series of chips in December 2019, Innovium launched the Teralynx 8 chip in early 2020. The Teralynx 8 chip has 112 Gb/sec native operation, 100 Gb/sec SerDes actual operation, and at 450 watts, this is a very popular chip that will provide a large number of port density and base or raw bandwidth , It depends on how the switch manufacturer divides and allocates bandwidth.

With the continuous development of Broadcom and Innovium, the bandwidth race between the two companies is not over yet. The result is interesting competition in the network switching market, but this is healthy for the data center market.


We can buy ASIC, software, computing, storage or network equipment from the same supplier, there is no problem. However, if this is the only option, then there is a problem. Facts have proved that evergreen trees are hard to have, and the dominance of a family will eventually be overthrown. They will either be breakthroughs by their own customers’ endogenous self-developed customized chips, or they will be restrained by the rise of new forces.

This article is from WeChat official account:Semiconductor Industry Observation (ID: icbank) author: Du Qin DQ