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TI delivers on single-chip promise

Nokia signs up for 'revolutionary silicon'

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Texas Instruments has delivered on its 2002 promise to create a single-chip mobile phone, and Nokia will be the first customer, incorporating the revolutionary silicon in some low cost models. Such highly compact architectures will be crucial for developing very price sensitive models for developing economies, which will provide most of the growth for handset makers in the coming years.

TI said in 2002 that it would incorporate wireless protocol stacks, the digital baseband, applications processing functionality, the analog baseband, power management, RF and embedded memory on one chip. The first implementation, about six months later than originally promised, is based on TI’s DRP architecture and is aimed at entry level GPRS phones. Handsets using the chip should debut early next year

This follows TI’s first single-chip release, a Bluetooth device, and similar solutions for other networks will follow in 2005-6. The underlying DRP (Digital RF Processor) architecture claims to halve space and power consumption in a wireless device compared to traditional analog chipsets.

"The processing of radio signals with digital logic can significantly shift the paradigm for embedding wireless communications by making it easier to implement and to scale," said Dr Hans Stork, TI's chief technology officer. By greatly simplifying RF processing in this way, complex handsets can be made more compact and cheaper, and far less power hungry, all critical factors for carrier and user adoption.

The DRP is a key element of TI’s promised multi-radio singlechip wireless solution, slated for late 2005, which will support cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and potentially WiMAX (CDMA, which coexists less readily with other protocols, will have to wait until 2006 although TI was insistent that it would take its DRP into this market. TI is Nokia’s primary partner for CDMA and the main challenger to the technology’s patent holder Qualcomm).

The enthusiasm of Nokia for the new chip cast a further shadow over its relationship with STMicroelectronics, which is planning a single-chip launch of its own. Analysts have been concerned that STMicro will lose significant business from Nokia, its largest customer, if ST falls behind in single-chip. ST’s main strength is in chips for entry level handsets.

CEO Pasquale Pistorio brushed aside the fears, and said he is "very optimistic" about the chipmaker's ties to the Finnish giant, which accounted for 17.9 per cent of ST's revenue last year. About five per cent of its total revenue could be lost to TI if it fails to compete in single-chip architectures, predict chip watchers.

ST's vice president Enrico Villa said the company is working on a single chip that can integrate many functions for mobile phones.

Other chip vendors will lose out in the single-chip trend, especially those who sell large numbers of traditionally separate elements such as RF chips. Nokia buys most of these components, currently, from Philips, Infineon and STMicro. Qualcomm has promised a single-chip CDMA design by early 2006.

Copyright © 2004, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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