New Qualcomm chip sets add power, competition

The last few weeks have seen the age of "power phones" come a little bit closer. Last week, Nokia announced it would start producing more powerful CDMA chip sets in conjunction with Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics.

Then on Thursday, Qualcomm -- seen as the leader in the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) space -- made a four-part announcement that it, too, is releasing a more powerful set of chips that will become available next year.

"It's going to add a lot of heat in the game," said Tim Shelton, a senior analyst at Allied Business Intelligence in the US. "There is definitely a race to integrate components in the handset."

Shelton said the chip makers' goal is to consolidate as many jobs as possible on as few chips as possible inside the handsets. He pointed out that Qualcomm's announcement calls for a dual CPU on a single chip, which puts "two functions into one chip."

San Diego-based Qualcomm said the dual CPU will have one processor handling multimode modems and time-critical functions, with the second available as a general-purpose processor.

"We believe we can get a lower cost point and much lower power consumption," said Johan Lodenius, Qualcomm's senior vice president of marketing and product management. "The key things are cost and power."

That translates into a product that can serve as a central control point for all other appliances and devices in a person's life, Lodenius said. "Whatever it is, part PDA, part phone, part entertainment device, it's enabling you to carry all the data you need to carry and control the devices that you will encounter in your daily life, acting as a central hub for the consumer."

Lodenius said the chips were designed in part after consulting Qualcomm's customers looking for the convergence of digital photography and video, games and phones into single devices. In other words, the devices can handle broadcast quality images. "This market is going to really converge," he said.

But users of mobile devices probably won't begin to see such progress until 2005 or 2006.

Shelton said it is too early to tell how the competition between Nokia and Qualcomm will shake out. He said he has not seen anything in the early stages of these announcements that gives one design a definitive advantage over the other.

In the end it will be up to the handset manufacturers themselves, he said.

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