Broadcom is one of the world’s largest silicon providers, playing in most technology fields that require some form of chip processor. That breadth includes a heavy focus on the networking and data center markets, although it sees potential in the 5G and IoT space.
The company is also well known for being headline fodder, helped by the willingness of its CEO Hock Tan to throw around Broadcom’s operational and financial clout.
This year alone, Broadcom finally ditched a long-suffering attempt to acquire rival Qualcomm for $121 billion that played out as part of a high-stakes trade war between the United States and China. It announced plans to cut more than 1,000 jobs that it blamed on its recent acquisition of Brodcade. And most recently it announced a highly contentious $18.9 billion acquisition of CA Technologies. Tan also made a trip to the Oval Office where he snared face-time and accolades from President Donald Trump over plans to redomicile its headquarters from Singapore to the U.S. as part of that Qualcomm quest.
It’s basically a company crying out for a reality show.
But beyond the headlines, Broadcom has been very active in updating its chip portfolio with a focus on those previously mentioned market segments.
One area where Broadcom has significant depth and market share is in the Ethernet switching space. The company’s lead product in this space is its Tomahawk family of chips that are targeted at hyperscalers that need the most in performance.
The company late last year updated that chipset line with the ability to support 12.8 Tb/s speeds for Ethernet switching. Earlier this year it added an open source software development kit (SDK) that allows developers to customize their use of that chip. This move also helped better position Broadcom against new rivals that are banking their efforts on programmability.
Below the Tomahawk platform is Broadcom’s Trident line of chips. Rochan Sankar, senior director of Broadcom’s core switch group, said the Trident line is targeted at private cloud, data center, campus core, and some service provider applications. Speeds for that platform currently top out at 3.2 Tb/s.
“Even though it trails Tomahawk in getting to a particular bandwidth node, it does so with a very programmable architecture,” Sankar explained. “The market has shown that adoption of programmability is trending toward more turnkey solutions, but we offer that level of programmability for our own sake and our customers.”
Broadcom also recently rolled out an updated version of its Jericho programmable Ethernet switch chip that targets service provider networks, edge and core routers, cloud data centers, and enterprise campuses. The new chip has up to 10 Tb/s switching capacity per device.
Jericho2 is programmable in that it has the ability to modify lookup keys, results, and actions of the existing stages of the pipe. It also takes advantage of Broadcom’s Elastic Pipe technology that allows for greater control over chip resources and supports future updates.
Sankar explained that Broadcom works to update each of these platforms every 18 to 24 months.
Broadcom does not currently have a strong position in the 5G technology space, something that it was looking to rectify with the Qualcomm acquisition. But, it is looking to take advantage of its leadership position with WiFi chips to garner a foothold in the burgeoning 5G space.
Tan recently told investors that he saw potential for Broadcom’s silicon for chips that work in higher spectrum bands to spill over into the ongoing push to use millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum for 5G deployments.
“You also have to reach out in 5G to frequencies that are much higher, much more difficult to produce to put in a phone for communications, data communications. And I’m referring to frequencies to go way above 3 gigahertz now as the first [step],” Tan said. “And as we’re going more and more [to these] 5G phones, you have more frequencies, more requirements of our components in the same limited space of a phone. … And that’s where our capabilities, our technology in RF especially FBAR [film bulk acoustic resonator] comes into its own.”
Of course, with Qualcomm now out of the picture for Broadcom, and Qualcomm in turn having nixed its acquisition of NXP, the race for 5G market share is more competitive than ever.
One area where Broadcom does think it can snare 5G market share is in the edge and IoT space. Sankar said he sees some possibility for the firm’s Jericho and Trident product lines to infiltrate the telco edge computing space.
“This is where we see our ability to spread across those different form factors,” Sankar explained. He did note that the IoT and telco edge computing markets were still in their infancy, stating that once “you see a trend in volumes you will see movement.”
Sankar said that Broadcom overall remains committed to the rapid evolution of its chip platforms in order to maintain required performance characteristics or to infiltrate new market opportunities. “We plow a lot of [research and development] efforts into our portfolio and think we are well placed to continue to grow market share,” he said.
Story updated to note that the Trident bandwidth speeds top out at 3.2 Tb/s.