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Nvidia's newest Tegra chip is ready for faster LTE-Advanced networks

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Tegra 4i
Tegra 4i

Nvidia's Tegra 4i — a mobile processor introduced in February and billed as a cheaper, smaller, more power-efficient alternative to the ultra high-performance Tegra 4 found in the Shield handheld — is already being shown in an upgraded form this week. Previously demonstrated with support for 100Mbps LTE, the latest version is compatible 150Mbps LTE-Advanced service that carriers will start deploying starting this year.

What's most interesting is how the Tegra 4i was upgraded so quickly. The hardware is identical to the part shown off back at Mobile World Congress, but because it features a "software-defined modem," Nvidia simply applied an update to the chip's integrated modem circuitry to bring it up to spec with LTE-Advanced. The company says that another update that it's currently working on will make the 4i compatible with voice over LTE (VoLTE), the long-awaited replacement for old-fashioned circuit switched calling that many carriers — Verizon and AT&T included — will end up using.

What's most interesting is how it was upgraded so quickly

That capability should help phone manufacturers ship with better and more current wireless technologies because the 4i's modem can be upgraded very late in the game, but Nvidia says that customers shouldn't expect miracles: it's not likely that we will see a production phone that is magically upgraded from LTE to LTE-Advanced after it's already on store shelves, for instance. One phones are in customers' hands, updates are likely to be far more minor.

Tegra 4i-powered phones are still a ways off; Nvidia says that it's currently going through AT&T's lengthy certification process and that we'll probably see devices in early 2014 (and by then, it's likely that networks will start offering LTE-Advanced support). When they finally get here, the company faces an uphill battle for adoption: besides Qualcomm's dominance, industry giants Apple and Samsung both source their own processors and have all but pushed Nvidia out of the North American market, so it'll be looking to the 4i's midrange pricing to pick up some slack.