Intel takes Manitoba to the Edge in mobile phones

Designers of mobile phones based on the emerging Edge (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) standard will be able to...

Designers of mobile phones based on the emerging Edge (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) standard will be able to incorporate a single-chip product from Intel in phones next year.

Intel's PXA800EF chip builds upon the PXA800F, formerly known as Manitoba. That chip, introduced in February, was Intel's first mobile phone chip to combine a DSP (digital signal processor), an applications processor based on Intel's XScale technology, and flash memory onto a single piece of silicon. [

The PXA800F used GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Services) mobile networks. The new chip takes advantage of the faster data rates enabled by Edge networks, which are viewed as a stepping stone between the so-called 2.5G GSM/GPRS networks and the long-awaited 3G networks promised by the WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) standards.

GSM/GPRS carriers in the US are looking at Edge networks as a way to compete with the CDMA2000 1x networks used by Verizon Wireless to enable data transmission speeds greater than the 30Kbps (bits per second) or 40Kbps allowed by GSM/GPRS networks, said Alex Slawsby, an analyst with IDC.

Edge networks offer transmission speeds around twice as fast as GSM/GPRS, and about the same as CDMA2000 1x.

AT&T Wireless Services, T-Mobile USA and Cingular Wireless are all planning to move their GSM/GPRS networks to Edge technology, said Will Strauss, principal analyst at Forward Concepts.

Rolling out Edge networks also makes sense from a financial standpoint, Strauss said. Mobile phone carriers have invested a great deal of money into spectrum and capital equipment purchases, and cannot afford to build out extensive 3G networks right now. Edge networks are the rough equivalent of a 2.75G network, Strauss added.

Intel left a lot of headroom in the design of the PXA800F chip, which allowed the company to scale the chip up to the performance level required by Edge networks, said Intel marketing manager David Rogers.

The applications processor on the PXA800EF runs at 312MHz. To accommodate the demands of Edge networks, Intel boosted the clock rate on the DSP to 156MHz, up from the 104MHz on the PXA800F.

The PXA800EF comes with 4Mbytes of Intel On-Chip flash and 512Kbytes of SRAM (static RAM) dedicated to the applications processor, and an additional 512Kbytes of On-Chip flash and 64Kbytes of SRAM for the DSP, Intel said.

Integrating the flash memory, applications processor, and DSP allows for slightly better performance than multichip products, since the processors can execute information out of on-chip memory faster than out of memory located on an adjoining chip, Strauss said.

However, because 3G phones will demand as much as twice the amount of flash memory needed by existing phones, at a certain point it no longer makes sense for mobile phone chip manufacturers to integrate flash memory onto the same piece of silicon, he said. Chip manufacturers have an incentive to keep die sizes as low as possible to improve yields and allow mobile phone designers to keep developing small phones.

Texas Instruments supplies Edge chips to Nokia, the world's largest supplier of mobile phones. Analog Devices and Infineon Technologies also manufacture chips for Edge mobile phones.

so far Intel has only signed up one customer for its GSM/GPRS PXA800F chip, Maxon Telecom in Taiwan.

Intel intends to support WCDMA as it moves up the ladder to 3G technologies, Rogers said. It has not announced support for any other 3G protocols or technologies, but is looking at supporting those standards.

The PXA800EF is now available in sample volumes, with production volumes expected by the first quarter of 2004, and phones based on the chip later that year. The chip costs $30 in quantities of 10,000 units.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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