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When Your Phone Is a Chip

When Your Phone Is a Chip

Industry players Wavecom and Intel have successfully entered the cellphone market with solutions-based, all-in-one chipset modules. These modules are waltzing OEMs over the line into the world of cellular phones.

Wavecom Enables Turnkey Cellphone Business
For companies in the CDMA market without expertise or experience in GSM, the Wavecom product affords the opportunity to slap this module into a handset, complete with IP indemnification licensing, carrier approval on the GSM network, and the necessary chips and other licensing, and offer up a GSM phone just like that.

These companies would otherwise have to approach a dozen or more organizations for licensing of essential IP for GSM and get those licenses within the typical two-year time frame. Wavecom offers a CDMA module as well. Everything is included in the price of the modules. Wavecom's approach circumvents individual license negotiations for OEMs like Gateway, HP, and Handspring that are entering the wireless space without these relationships.

With Wavecom's MUSE Platform Open MMI (Man Machine Interface), customers can develop unique user interfaces. "Developing MMI used to take a huge team of resources, 20-30 people working on MMI development. We now offer that as part of our module package," says David McCartney, vice president of marketing and business development, Wavecom. Wavecom brings its own GPRS protocol stack, the Wavecom stack. "You don't have to have half a million dollars up front and a dollar a unit included in the price [to get a GPRS stack or licensing]," says McCartney. Wavecom has a license from Sun to include J2ME in its WISMO chipset module's software packaging.

Wavecom has developed its own baseband to control new baseband features like AMR technology (Adaptive Multi-Rate) for U.S.-based GSM networks and EDGE phones.

Services
Services that come with WISMO modules include integration, the certification process, and carrier relationships. Wavecom integrates RF, antennas, and SAR for cellphone providers. "We also understand plastics, the impacts of displays, and all the GSM component requirements for speaker vibrator, battery connections, and battery-charging connections. All those types of activities require a good turnkey integration," says McCartney.

Wavecom is onboard to provide Legend, China's largest PC manufacturer, with modules for its new phones, which are forthcoming.

Wavecom acquires all necessary certifications for its CDMA and GSM modules. It has a team that works exclusively on carrier relations, FCC activities, and related certification matters. "We know how to take a product, get it certified and get it into revenue provisioning," says McCartney.

Wavecom modules are precertified with the carriers.

Savings
According to McCartney, Wavecom modules lower handset costs by providing IP licensing, which can run up to 25% of the selling price of the device. Wavecom modules lower costs again by providing carrier certification, which cuts certification costs by almost 75%.

Intel Cellphone Market Buy-in
Intel's PXA800F cellular processor (code name Manitoba) packs a CPU, DSP, and flash memory in one module. The CPU handles applications while the DSP processes digital communications. The PXA800F is crammed with a significant amount of flash memory (4MB) for a cellphone processor. Intel is researching and considering other technologies for its modules, like RF, analog front ends, and power management. Though many manufacturers are set on getting these technologies from one of the multiple providers already out there, should there come a day when they want it all from one source, Intel will be ready.

With Intel's hefty flash memory, the code that used to rest in external SRAM is now on the chip for quick access. (This code includes communications code for the DSP, a real-time OS, and applications.) Voice and data applications function quickly without conflicting with each other.

It's a Manitoba Market
A typical EDGE phone today uses GPRS and requires a separate class 12 - capable baseband. In addition, it will have a separate applications processor, three or four chips depending on the memory configuration, and a separate chip for polyphonic ringtones. That's about six or seven chips. Manitoba has all that on one chip, says David Rogers, marketing manager, Intel XScale technology line.

Specs
"The Intel PXA800F cellular processor features a high-performance, low-power processor running at 312MHz based on the Intel XScale technology with 4MB of integrated Intel on-chip flash memory and 512KB of SRAM for industry-leading application performance. In addition, the Intel PXA800F cellular processor includes a 104MHz signal processor using the Intel Micro Signal Architecture with 512KB of integrated Intel onchip flash memory and 64KB of SRAM, resulting in a complete system on a single chip for advanced GSM/GPRS cellular networks," says Mark O. Miller, Intel spokesman. That 312MHz is the maximum frequency. You can scale it if you need fewer MIPS, says Rogers. (MIPS is a million instructions per second, a measure of compute power.)

You can put a Java Virtual Machine in there too. "If you've played with any of the phones out there today that use GPRS, the loading of a Java app is painfully slow. It takes 12-15 seconds sometimes. Having these things close to the processor means they load up quickly and they run quickly. You really improve the user experience," says Rogers.

The Intel Micro Signal Architecture for its DSP runs at 104MHz. The DSP has 512KB of flash and some additional SRAM dedicated to the DSP. One of the biggest problems folks have when they have an applications processor and a communications processor all on one chip is that these usually have to fight for control of a single memory bus that goes out to the memory. The PXA800F alleviates some of that because now you've got all your communications code there on the chip. You don't have to go out over that shared bus and fight for bandwidth, says Rogers. The module also comes with a great number of peripherals, serial ports, and LCD controllers. Putting everything on one chip saves on design complexity. You have room for other things.

Why Is Intel Entering This Market?
It's a big market. Intel hasn't been silent about the fact that it's going after other markets. With cellphones moving toward data and more ODMs (Original Design Manufacturers) making phones so OEMs can brand and sell them, the market for facilitating that via these kinds of modules is there.

What Does Intel Have Planned for the Future?
Intel is examining how to use 802.11 in conjunction with WLANs. It's looking at RF solutions. It will provide reference designs. "We launched a product last March called Electra, which was a reference design for smart phones," says Rogers.

"Samsung is debuting the i600 this fall with Intel technology. Motorola was one of the first to adopt our stacked chips, where we stack the memory and a processor in one small package," says Rogers. That's the A760, a Linux-based phone. Several others are debuting in Asia and Europe. "The world's first 3G phone from NEC had our original strong arm processor under the hood," says Rogers.

Intel can sell 400,000 units a year and move software developers toward new technologies like fingerprint recognition on cellphones and other applications, says Miller.

Conclusion
Mobile phones used to be manufactured by specialist companies with the knowledge and experience to understand the intricacies of the technology, the regulatory limitations, and the carrier relationships. But with the advent of phoneson- a-chip, anyone can make a mobile phone, and many people are planning to. Last year we saw Sony (who knows about consumer electronics) link up with Ericcson (who knows about mobile phones), but next year such relationships won't be necessary as everyone who can slap a box together gets into the mobile phone business.

We're already starting to see carriers hire companies to develop their own branded handsets, and with the addition of so many new players, this trend will only increase. With so many new companies coming into business with similar technical capabilities (dictated by the underlying technology), we can expect to see some real innovation in terms of design and other market differentiation. Interesting times are ahead.

More Stories By David Geer

David Geer is a contributing writer to WBT, a journalist, and a computer technician. He graduated from Lake Erie College in 1993 with a BA in psychology and has worked in the computer industry and in the media since 1998.

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