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Integrated chips fuel smartphone growth

Technology News |
By eeNews Europe


"The next 300 million smartphones will come from feature phone replacements," said Linley Gwennap, principal of The Linley Group (Mountain View, CA), organizer of the event. "The pressure for smartphone designers will be in reducing systems cost to meet this growing demand for lower cost smartphones and silicon integration is a key," Gwennap said.

Much of the integration will come from combining application and baseband processors. By 2014 nearly 70 percent of all smartphones will use such integrated chips, up from 40 percent in 2010, Gwennap predicted.

Such chips will be key as designers try to hit prices as low as $100 for smartphones sold in emerging markets. Meanwhile, "the percentage of the market you can address with stand-alone application and baseband processors is slowly diminishing" to about 80 to 100 million units a year, Gwennap said.

"We totally believe most of the growth will come from integrated processors," said Raj Talluri, a senior Qualcomm manager at the event. "We did some analysis of the smartphone tiers and found greater than 50 percent of the market is for handsets costing less than $150–and that segment is growing.

"When you get into that class the BoM doesn’t support standalone apps and modem processors," Talluri added.

LG, Motorola and Samsung are among the largest feature phone vendors and thus best positioned for the next round of smartphone growth. Qualcomm and Marvell led the move to integrated application and baseband processors and along with Broadcom and ST Ericsson own the pieces required for next-generation integrated chips, Gwennap said.

Qualcomm is shifting from a four- to a three-chip smartphone set in 2012 with separate devices for digital, RF and analog, he added. However many integrated chips may actually use multiple die in a package.

In application processors, dual core is sweeping the market this year. Nvidia led the way with its Tegra 2 processor already shipping in LG smartphones and Motorola tablets. A half a dozen other dual-core mobile processors from all the leading chip makers will ship in systems this year, Gwennap predicted.

In February Nvidia demonstrated its next generation, the quad-core Tegra 3. Freescale and Qualcomm have announced similar products on the horizon.

"Some of the initial quad-core designs will exceed the thermal limits of what you can do in a smartphone, so you will need to throttle them back and then you won’t get the performance you expect," Gwennap said. "Thus quad-cores will be more successful in tablets initially because of their better heat dissipation" until 28nm versions for smartphones are available, he said.

"Quad core itself is not a problem, it’s how you use the cores," said Talluri of Qualcomm, noting frequency can be controlled on individual cores on his chips. "Our quad core will be 28-nm, and a lot of [thermal management] is in packaging technology–where you stack memory and whether use through silicon vias," he added.

An ARM representative said the company spends a lot of time enabling a "rush to idle" so chips can process a job fast and go back to sleep.

"You still dissipate a lot of power when you run at full speed, and that’s when you run into the thermal issue," Gwennap said.

"Over the next year or two, Nvidia and Qualcomm will duel over the performance lead in apps processors, and TI never quite gets there," said Gwennap. "Broadcom is aiming for lower performance mainstream tablets and feature phone replacements rather than the high-end luxury market [because] you don’t have to be the performance leader to make it in this market," he said.

Intel is likely to find a small but significant foothold in smartphones over time, Gwennap said.

"By 2014, we expect Intel to have pretty competitive products on aggressive process technologies that may be enough to get them in a small number of phones but there are big barriers for them in creating a software ecosystem," he said.

Mobile 3-D graphics are also on a tear moving from dual-core chips this year to quad-core versions soon. However, measuring raw mobile graphics performance remains a challenge, said Gwennap, calling for a mobile graphics benchmark.

The hardware along with new video engines will help process either two 1080-progressive video streams at 24 frames/second for stereo 3-D or 60 frames/s video for picture quality. To handle the load at low power rates will require video engines access system memory directly without going through a host CPU, he said.


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