Texas mobile phone chipset moves closer to Edge

Texas Instruments has announced its first chipset for Edge (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) networks, a stepping stone on...

Texas Instruments has announced its first chipset for Edge (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) networks, a stepping stone on the road to third-generation wireless networks.

The TCS3500 chipset is intended to allow mobile phone designers to build smartphones and personal digital assistants running on Edge networks. These networks offer faster data rates than existing GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) networks, but fall short of the data rates promised by 3G networks.

Edge networks are seen by GSM carriers in the US as a competitive response to the rollout of new, faster CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks by carriers such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint, said Tom Pollard, worldwide marketing director for Texa Instruments' wireless chipset business unit.

European carriers are also rolling out Edge networks to improve bandwidth while waiting for the market to develop for 3G networks.

The first Edge networks are starting to appear in the US, but are unlikely to multiply until 2005, Pollard said. The TCS3500 chipset will be available to manufacturers in sample volumes in the first quarter, with full production volumes available in the fourth quarter.

The OMAP850 applications processor is the backbone of the chipset. It incorporates a quad-band Edge modem, and upgraded imaging capabilities that allow the chip to power up to two megapixel digital cameras. A power management chip as well as a Bluetooth chip complete the chipset.

Intel released an Edge chip last year, in the hope of breaking into the market for mobile phone chips, led by Texas Instruments. Intel's PXA800EF chip comes with the applications processor, the digital signal processor (DSP), and flash memory integrated onto a single chip, unlike Texas instruments' approach.

The integrated approach can boost performance, but Texas Instruments opted to let customers choose the amount of flash memory they require for their phones, Pollard. Intel's customers can add more flash memory in their phones, but some customers might not need as much flash memory as found in the PXA800EF, Pollard claimed.

TechKnowledge Strategies principal analyst Mike Feibus said there were trade-offs with both approaches.

The chipset approach offers customers more flexibility and lower manufacturing costs, but mobile phone developers worried about the size of the chipset can build smaller phones with Intel's chip, he added.

The TCS3500 was released as a reference design that can help mobile phone builders quickly develop a product, Pollard said. The reference design includes software tools and guidelines for motherboard design.

Pollard added that the reference design also supports a wider variety of operating systems than Intel's chip. Mobile phone developers using the Texas Instruments design can run Microsoft Windows Mobile, the Symbian operating system, Linux or PalmSource's Palm OS.

Intel's PXA800EF customers can only run real-time operating systems that support Java on that chip, an Intel spokesman said, adding that by themselves, Intel's XScale applications processors support the wider range of operating systems.

Texas Instruments declined to release pricing for the TCS3500. Pricing varies greatly depending on the number of chipsets purchased.

Intel and TI are shaping up as the two strongest competitors in the cell phone market over the long term, Feibus said. Motorola's semiconductor division also has a chance to compete in this market once its spinoff from Motorola is complete.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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