Apple poaching Broadcom talent as rumors of in-house baseband chip development intensify

Apple hire (Paul Chang, Broadcom)

Following talk of Apple’s rumored initiative that would have it develop its own baseband chips for 2015 iPhones and iPads in-house, AppleInsider has learned the firm’s recently poached a pair of longtime semiconductor engineers from chipmaker Broadcom.

Both men are experienced at building RF hardware and have led the effort to produce baseband transceivers used by Nokia and Samsung devices.

Apple counts Broadcom as its supplier: the iPhone 5s uses a Broadcom touchscreen controller and the handset’s Wi-Fi chip by Murata is based on Broadcom’s BCM4334 module, according to a teardown analysis by repair experts over at iFixIt…

AppleInsider first discovered that former Broadcom principal engineer Paul Chang has left the company in February, after an 11-year tenure, to join Apple as a senior program manager. He’s also credited with three Broadcom patents covering integrated circuit manufacturing methods.

Chang’s LinkedIn profile can be seen top of post, confirming his new position at Apple.

In addition to Chang, Broadcom’s Xiping Wang joined Apple as an engineer back in January, his LinkedIn profile reveals. Wang spent a decade as a design engineer and hardware development manager with Broadcom. The engineer jumpstarted his career in the semiconductor industry as an RF engineer at Motorola.

The publication noted:

All together, Apple has assembled at least 30 mid- and senior-level baseband software and hardware engineers from Broadcom and current iPhone baseband vendor Qualcomm over the past three years.

Apple’s hiring spree for baseband engineers continues as the firm’s job site currently has more than 50 additional openings related to RF chip design.

DigiTimes reported yesterday that Apple is planning to form a research and development team to engineer baseband processors for iPhones fully in-house. This would be a first for the company.

Although Apple has more than a thousand engineers on its wireless and semiconductor teams who design processors for iOS devices in-house, these things don’t integrate cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity.

Broadcom BCM94360CD
Broadcom’s BCM94360CD Wi-Fi/Bluetooth card.

Instead, the latest iPhones and iPads use Broadcom’s separate Wi-Fi networking chip while relying on Qualcomm’s baseband silicon for cellular connectivity. Specifically, the iPhone 5s includes Qualcomm’s MDM9615M modem which combines a DRAM module that retains carrier specific information and an LTE/3G/EDGE baseband processor in one package.

The chip is being fabbed on Samsung’s 28-nanometer process technology, is smaller and more power-efficient than its predecessor and allows for both voice and data connections over LTE networks.

That being said, integrating a baseband processor with the CPU, GPU and RAM would allow for cost savings, result in speed increases and led to a better battery performance.

Apple seems to be focused on acquiring fabless semiconductor companies.

In years past, it snapped up semiconductor experts PA Semi and Intrinsity for a combined $400 million. Apple is also an investor in UK-based Imagination Technologies, the iPhone and iPad’s graphics provider.

Furthermore, Apple’s recently acquired Renesas SP Drivers, the exclusive provider of LCD drivers for the iPhone, to help improve image sharpness and battery life on iOS devices.