3GSM - TI preps for 3G phones with new EDGE products

3GSM - TI preps for 3G phones with new EDGE products

Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) will introduce a new category within its OMAP mobile phone processor family that the company says will make 3G mobile phones more affordable for mainstream users by integrating tasks previously handled by separate chips. The Dallas company is expected to unveil the OMAP-VOX family of chips at 3GSM World Congress in Cannes Monday. The first chip in the family, the OMAPV1030, is designed for EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) phones that fall just shy of the data rates required to be classified as true 3G (third-generation) mobile phones. However, future OMAP-VOX chips will support the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) 3G standard.

For several years, the mobile phone industry has been promising a world of 3G mobile phones that allow users to browse the Internet, access corporate applications, or play mobile games at speeds approximating broadband connections. Phones or networks that use the term 3G must be capable of transmitting data at 144K bps (bits per second) for users traveling in cars or buses, 384K bps for pedestrians or 2M bps for stationary users, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Reaching that vision has taken quite a bit longer than many in the industry had originally thought, but Japan is leading the way in the adoption of 3G phones and Europe is close behind, said Avner Goren, a product marketing manager with TI.

While other users wait for 3G networks to roll out across the world, many carriers and phone makers have upgraded their widely used GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) networks and phones to the EDGE standard, which is viewed as a stepping stone to true 3G networks.

Because of the faster data rates enabled by EDGE and 3G phones, TI's older chips in those categories have needed one processing core from Arm Ltd. to run the operating system and applications, an EDGE modem and another Arm core to help the modem. The OMAP-VOX family takes advantage of shrinking chip manufacturing technologies to allow mobile phones to run applications, multimedia and the modem with a single Arm applications processing core, Goren said.

As users demand more powerful features in lower-priced phones, the mobile phone processor industry is building more chips that integrate as many functions as possible onto a single die. This allows phone vendors to reduce their manufacturing costs with smaller, simpler motherboards that also enable new phone designs to more quickly reach the market.

Phones with the OMAPV1030 chip will cost less than US$100 to manufacture, Goren said.

TI, Freescale Semiconductor Inc. and Intel Corp. have all announced designs that integrate applications processors and EDGE modems. Intel also plans to introduce a 3G phone chip that integrates an applications processor, 3G modem and flash memory.

TI also designed the OMAP-VOX products to use many of the same applications and modem software programs in both EDGE and 3G mobile phones, Goren said. When mobile phone providers are ready to upgrade their products to 3G, they can keep the same software for Web browsing, gaming and EDGE modems and just add software support for UMTS modems, Goren said.

This same concept will carry forward into TI's OMAP-VOX chipsets for 3G phones, but the product road map will split, Goren said. The company will develop three categories of integrated 3G chipsets for smart phones, feature phones and value phones at different prices, he said.

TI is currently distributing samples of the OMAPV1030 to its customers, Goren said. Mass production will start in the third quarter, with phones expected to reach the market by the end of this year or the beginning of 2006, he said. The OMAP-VOX chips for 3G networks will be available in sample qualities later this year, with mass production expected to begin in 2006. -- IDG News Service

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