Broadcom promises dual-core power for budget prices

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a fine device. Its Android 4.0 OS, dual-core processor and crop of next next-gen radios lead market in the technological sophistication, but at more than $600 without contract, also leads the market in price. But Broadcom(s brcm) claims that all of that hardware and functionality can be available for half of the cost. That’s right, a smartphone for the cost of a feature phone.

Monday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Broadcom is unveiling the silicon component of that low-cost equation. The chipmaker announced three new Android 4.0-optimized integrated chipsets, combining one or multiple ARM (a armh) Cortex A9 processors with 3G radios. At the low-end is a package with a single 1 GHz processor and 7.5 Mbps HSPA modem, which Broadcom said is priced at feature phone levels. Robert Rango, Broadcom EVP and GM of its mobile and wireless group, said the pricing on mobile computing power are scaling so low, that anybody with a feature phone budget can soon afford a smartphone.

At the higher end are two 1.3 GHz dual-core chips with HSPA+ radios  — the key difference is one supports 1080p video while the other runs on 720p. The higher-resolution multimedia package is priced for devices in the $200 to $300 unsubsidized range, while the lower-resolution chip can scale all the way down to the $100 phone, Rango said.

The bottom line, Rango said, is that a handset vendor could replicate the specs and performance of the European Nexus in a phone priced $300 or less. In the U.S. where operators heavily subsidize devices, it’s easy to see the cost to the consumer dropping below $100. What’s even more compelling is the idea that carriers could soon start giving dual-core smartphones away for free with their standard two-year contracts.

All three chips are sampling today and will begin shipping in volumes to vendors in the second half of the year. That means we might see that $300 Nexus knock-off before the end of the year. Of course, by that point the industry will have scaled its next performance peak launching the first quad-core smartphones. Still, it’s amazing to see how quickly the top-line technologies of today are dropping down to the mass market.