IBM chips simplify, reduce cost of mobile phones

CMOS semiconductor technology aims to make handhelds more affordable

IBM has designed new semiconductor technology that will make it easier and cheaper to build cell phones, potentially extending the reach of mobile technology to the Third World.

While a typical American, European or Japanese person owns a cell phone already, most citizens of developing nations do not, says Ken Torino, director, of IBM's Foundry Products.

"The rest of the world is at about 30 percent penetration. There's a big drive there to get lower and lower cost cell phones," Torino says.

The semiconductor technology is called CMOS 7RF SOI and is being unveiled today by IBM at the annual FSA Suppliers Expo and Conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

IBM says its new product will integrate multimode/multiband RF switches, complex switch-biasing networks and power controllers into a single chip. Current cell phones use about three chips for these purposes, Torino says.

Development costs will be lowered by a dollar per phone, which Torino said is significant because a billion cell phones are sold each year.

"There's a never-ending drive for lower cost, lower power, higher function, he says. "A buck is actually a lot. People kill for pennies in this business."

American consumers won't notice a whole lot of difference. Smaller chips might help developers make smaller phones, but consumers are already frustrated by small screen sizes, Torino notes. The better semiconductor technology will save space inside phones, though, letting developers add more features, he says.

Design kits will become generally available the first half of 2008, according to IBM.

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