So, itís really ST-Ericsson

Innovative approaches to solving challenges ranging from extending battery life to unique resistive multitouch screen technology are commented upon by Will, who also gives us a DSP market health update with regard to the semiconductor industry.

I think the ordering of the names, the makeup of the new organization chart revealed at MWC, and the Geneva HQ of the new company spell out who’s really in charge. All of their email addresses now change from stnwireless.com to stericsson.com.

The other basebands at MWC

Much has been made of the announcements at the Mobile World Congress concerning Nokia's future cell phone baseband chips to be supplied variously by Qualcomm, Broadcom, and ST-Ericsson. But there were other cell phone baseband chips that were introduced at MWC, including:

n  SandBridge Technologies’ SB3500 flexible baseband processor – a multicore, multithreaded, dynamically reprogrammable processor that Samsung is employing for a future LTE cell phone. We alluded to the Samsung tie in our last newsletter.

n  ASOCS' MP100 MultiComms processor – another multi-core baseband said to be capable of running up to three wireless air interface standards concurrently in software on a single chip. The company is currently shipping chips to a China partner for TD-SCDMA, EDGE and CMMD (Mobile TV).

n  InterDigital's SlimChip – the company’s IPC 6071 HSPA modem chip is now sampling in data modules, with volume ramp-up due in Q2/09.

n  Icera's second generation Livanto ICE8040 chipset – said to deliver all the major components for a full software-defined HSPA solution, integrating a soft baseband with Adaptive Wireless software, an advanced multiband RF CMOS transceiver and PMIC device.

n  CEVA's CEVA-XC DSP Core – mentioned in our previous newsletter for LTE basebands, scalable from cell phones and, through additional modular vector units, to base stations.

 

What else excited us at MWC?

n  Lime Microsystems – demonstrated its LMS6002 multi-standard, multi-band RF transceiver ICs for femtocells based on Jazz Semiconductor’s 0.18-micron BiCMOS SiGe process. The frequency-agile transceiver operates at user-selectable frequencies between 375 MHz and 4 GHz, with 16 user-selectable bandwidths up to 28 MHz. Of course, the SDR crowd is taking note of this chip, too.

n  ParkerVision – demonstrated its Direct2Power RF power transmitter technology that is said to result in extended battery life and multimode capability. As implemented in a SiGe process, the d2p RF Power Transmitter is a universal radio system is said to be capable of producing any desired modulation, including: GSM, EDGE, CDMA, WCDMA, HSUPA, LTE, TD-SCDMA, and m-WiMAX. LG Innotek is presently buying d2p die for a HEDGE module and ParkerVision claims to be shipping in handsets 2H/09.

n  Stantum – demonstrated its unique resistive screen PMatrix multitouch technology. The company’s remarkable multitouch screen implementations make the iPhone capacitive multitouch approach look rather puny. This also could be a way around Apple’s proprietary multitouch technology.

 

DSP shipments: still in the dumper, but there’s more to the story

The SIA released January 2009 shipment data indicating that DSP shipments (based on a 3-month rolling average) declined YoY to -47.2 percent (versus -38.6 percent in December) led by weakness in units. Note, however, this dramatic drop is not simply a decline in the DSP market, but a reflection that many chips classified as DSP last year are now classified as ASICs. For example, 3G baseband shipments by Freescale (classified last year as DSP) to Motorola have been largely displaced by 3G basebands from Qualcomm (which does not report its basebands as DSPs but accounts for them as ASICs). Even if total January baseband shipments in by Motorola were the same as last year (which they weren’t), the SIA would report a decline in DSP shipments and an increase in ASIC shipments.

DSP is actually the driver for the semiconductor industry

The lesson is that DSP continues losing its identity as a separate chip class, as DSP technology has become pervasive in the semiconductor industry and is, in fact, the driver for the entire semiconductor industry. (See Table 1.) Virtually all MCUs and MPUs have added either Multiply-Accumulator (MAC) circuitry or Single-Instruction Multiple-Data (SIMD) circuitry so they can also perform DSP (and often graphics) in addition to their traditional data processing functions. DSP cores are also hugely popular in SoCs, but they are not counted as DSP chips. So, in this new era of always-connected access to the Internet and multimedia, DSP is the underlying technology.

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Table 1: DSP technology permeates the semiconductor industry.

Smart phones: the bright spot this year

Smart phone shipments worldwide are projected to grow 13 percent in 2009 to 164 million units, providing bright market opportunities for both handset and chip vendors in the current dismal economy. With the economy expected to be on the mend in 2010, Forward Concepts forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 21.7 percent to the 387 million unit level in 2013, providing one of the few bright prospects for both handset and chip suppliers.

Details are spelled out in Forward Concepts’ new extensive (600-page) study, “Smartphone & Chip Market Opportunities,” an in-depth analysis of the top 24 Smartphone vendors, providing extensive tables (more than 100) of specifications well beyond those published by the vendors for virtually all smart phone models. Key chips and operating systems that enable them are forecasted in great detail. See: www.fwdconcepts.com/Smartphones.

As always, I invite your comments.

Will Strauss
President and Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com