High speed data hits mobiles

Paul Boughton

New technologies for high speed data to mobile phones and personal digital assistants are now emergingwith new companies such as start-up Icera competing with established players to provide the silicon.

The current buzz word is High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA). Downlink data rates of 1.83.6 and even 7.2Mbit/s in both directions with the coming High Speed (HSUPA) for 3G mobiles is the next challengeand six chip and IP suppliers are offering solutions.

But the industry is starting to look at the technologies for the generation after this. Even though HSDPA will not be in volume for a couple more yearsthe Long Term Evolution (LTE) of 3G is being planned for data rates up to 50 or even 100Mbit/s to compete with wireline broadband systems. While some predict this technology will be available by 2010some analysts are sceptical that the technology is necessary at all.

First out of the gate with HSDPA was US company Qualcomm. It has been sampling an HSDPA chipset with a digital baseband and separate RF front end since the end of 2004well ahead of any services which are just starting to roll out. But the momentum is starting. Strategy Analytics predicts 70percent of 3G handsets will use HSDPA by 2010and Qualcomm claims 120 design wins with 30 manufacturers so far.

“The global adoption of our UMTS and HSDPA solutions is an indication of the growing momentum of the industry-wide drive to deploy 3G networksproducts and services around the world” said Dr. Sanjay Jhapresident of QUALCOMM CDMA Technologies. It started sampling a new version in Marchwith higher data rates and supporting the symmetric HSUPA.


Reconfigurable baseband

Competing with the digital baseband is a UK startupIcera. Set up by Stan Boland after selling Element14Icera has developed a reconfigurable baseband that can be used for all three speeds with just a software upgrade. This solution is also smaller and lower power than the current available chipsetsays Nigel Toonmarketing manager.

“After three years of intense developmentwe are delighted to announce general availability of our first chipLivanto” said Boland. “It’s the first time out for the new DXP processoreasily the world’s highest performance generic wireless processor and our first chips are fully functional and meet or beat all speed and yield specifications. We have designed Livanto so we can meet all processing requirements for multi-megabit data ratesboth downlink and uplinkyet still offer the lowest power consumption in the industryall from a fully flexible solution. Not surprisinglywe have huge interest from terminal OEMs and operators alike.”

But other players are entering the market. Agere has launched a 3.6Mbit/s HSDPA baseband chipthe X455and expects to go into production later this year targeting a bill of materials under US$75 for mid-range phones.

“Today we have sampled an HSDPA solution that brings wireless broadband to high volumemainstream price points” said Denis Regimbalexecutive vice president of Agere’s Mobility Division. “Agere’s X455 is a flexible communications engine that allows our customers to target products for the volume segments of the market where the value added services that HSDPA brings to life will generate lucrative returns for the service providers.”

Infineon Technologies has also launched into HSDPA with the 7.2Mbit/s S-GOLD3H baseband processor that like the Agere X455 also includes the previous generation Wideband CDMA EDGE (WEDGE) technology.

“Our new HSDPA chip enables more than triple the data rates possible in mass market phones today” said Prof Dr Hermann Eulhead of the Communications Solutions business group at Infineon. “This makes broadband multimedia applicationssuch as video streaming or high speed audio video downloadavailable to the mass market. The scalabilityversatility and completeness of our latest reference design platform enable our customers to meet extremely challenging time-to-market requirements when moving from 2.75G phone to 3G and 3.5G (HSUPA) phoneswhile being flexible enough to quickly adapt to changing markets.”

Freescale Semiconductor has also demonstrated HSDPA software running on its dual core i.300 EDGE chipand plans to run HSDPA on its single core mxc.300where it has a reference design with Nokia.

Broadcom is also heading for HSDPAaiming to develop a single chip including the radio front end. It has launched an HSDPA Category 8 baseband chip in Maythat handles 7.2Mbit/s data and legacy GSMas well as adding a high-performance ARM11 applications processor.

While competing solutions stack multiple die within a single package or even have multiple packages for analogue and digital baseband functionsthe BCM2152 integrates this functionality – while also upgrading to a higher performance ARM11 processor – in a single 14mm X 14mm package.

“Broadcom’s new HSDPA-compliant processor demonstrates the company’s tremendous commitment to become one of the major chip suppliers in the mobile handset space” said Michael Thelander of market researchers Signals Research Group. “By being one of the first to market with a 7.2Mbps capable HSDPA solution that includes additional featuressuch as embedded multimedia processing and its proprietary M-Stream technologyBroadcom is well on the way toward accomplishing its objective.”

“The BCM2152 processor is the first in the industry to combine all of these cellular technologies on one piece of silicongreatly simplifying the process of developing and bringing to market advanced handsets with universal network roaming capabilities” said Jim TranVice President and General Manager for Broadcom’s Mobile Communication Line of Business. “We are receiving enthusiastic responses from our customers on this technological accomplishment and we intend to aggressively drive this solution into commercial market segments.”

The infrastructure is also coming alongwith Bath-based startup picoChip developing a reference for a 7.2Mbit/s HSDPA basestation in the home that could be integrated into a digital TV set top box to compete with voice over IP and WiFi. This is based around a reduced cost version of its array processorsupporting four usersand the software will be upgraded for HSUPA later this year.

Cambridge-based IP supplier TTPcom has also developed an HSDPA core. It taped out a core for WEDGE in Februaryand plans to add hardware to that for HSDPA and HSUPA which will be ready in the middle of this yearsays Michael Dimelowproduct marketing director at TTPcom. This is being aimed at the Tier two customers who want to add HSDPA to their products without having to do the silicon design.

Similarly Israeli design house Comsys is working with a partner to implement an HSDPA system. It has already licensed its EDGE technology to TI for a low cost GSM phone in India and Chinaand it is adding the HSDPA/UPA baseband alongside. This will go up as far as 14.4Mbit/ssays the company.

But Qualcomm has not stood stilland is combining the digital baseband with an applications processor. This dual chip will sample in the middle of this year on a 65nmsays Terry Yenmarketing managerand then the company is looking at combining the baseband with the RF for a true single chip HSDPA/HSUPA solution. As this is set for 65nmit is unlikely to sample before 2008says Yenbut is aimed at the high volume roll out of the technology.

The next generation technologyLTEis currently being evaluated by the 3GPP standards group and the standards process will start in July.

This will add MIMO multiple antenna technology to the basestations and the phones to get the higher data ratesand simplify the whole process.

But there are sceptics who see HSDPA and HSUPA as continuing well into the next decade and pushing LTE further out.

“The lesson of WCDMA (3G) is that average revenueseven for advanced operators such as DoCoMo in Japan are still falling despite the massive growth in users” Said Phil Kendalldirector of the global wireless practice at Strategy Analysics. “There are some clear lessons on what want to achieve by deploying the next generation of technology. It is somewhat alarming that you can deploy 3G networks and all people want to do is download Crazy Frog ring tones. It’s not the best use of the network resources. ”

“We believe it will be two to three years after the setting of the standards before we see any significant commercial deployment” he said. “We think 2009 will be a challenge and it’s probably more 20112012 before we see momentum behind it.”


Declining revenues

That position is backed up by Eiji Aonondirector of telecoms equity research at merchant bank CSFB. “In general we are still looking at declining overall average revenues even with data includedso it’s not a pretty picture and telcos will be under revenue pressure in the next couple of years.”

“LTE is more of a revolutionary change but we don’t expect anything to change this decade. We wouldn’t expect it until well into 2012 or 2013” he said.

But the mobile phone operators are fighting back. “Do we sit back and not develop any new technologies?” said Trevor Gillhead of radio at Vodafone’s research and development group. “That would be pretty foolish. We are fully confident that we can achieve something that's well worth having.”

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