Qualcomm develops Scorpion mobile phone processor

Qualcomm is moving further into the mobile phone processor market with its own Scorpion chip, scheduled to appear next year.

Qualcomm has signed a license to use Arm's core architecture for internally developed chips, announcing the first Qualcomm-developed mobile phone processor in a press release Tuesday.

Arm designs applications processor cores for mobile phones and embedded devices that other companies license and incorporate into their own products. This is how Qualcomm had built applications processors into its Mobile Station Modem (MSM) chipsets before the Scorpion processor, which was publicly unveiled Tuesday. An applications processor runs the operating system and applications on mobile phones, and usually another chip handles the connection to the cellular network.

Scorpion uses Arm's ARMv7 instruction set as the base for the processor, but Qualcomm added its own chip technology in order to improve performance and reduce power consumption, a Qualcomm spokesman said. Scorpion marks the first time Qualcomm has added its own applications processor technology to one of its MSM chipsets for both CDMA EV-DO (Code Division Multiple Access Evolution Data-Only) and WCDMA (Wideband CDMA) mobile phones, he said.

The ARMv7 instruction set is the basis for Arm's new Cortex A8 family of processor cores, unveiled earlier this year at Arm's Developer Forum. Scorpion will run faster than the Cortex A8 core, at 1GHz, and will consume half as much power at that faster speed, the Qualcomm spokesman said. Scorpion will be built using Qualcomm's 65-nanometer processing technology, he said.

Qualcomm has not announced whether it will license Scorpion to other chip makers, the spokesman said. The San Diego company plans to announce specific MSM chipsets and mobile phones using Scorpion next year.

Unlike the PC processor market, the emerging market for sophisticated mobile phone processors has many players. Qualcomm is a dominant player among CDMA phones. Texas Instruments is considered a leader in the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) market with its OMAP processors based on Arm's core technology. Freescale Semiconductor has a close relationship with its former corporate parent, Motorola, and Samsung Semiconductor is also a leader in this category. The latter three companies have all announced licensing deals for Arm's Cortex A8 core.

Like Qualcomm, Intel has also taken an architectural license for Arm's technology, preferring to design its own technology around that instruction set. Intel's XScale applications processors have been well-received by mobile phone and personal digital assistant designers, but the company has had a harder time getting its mobile phone communications chips into products.

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