Recent delays in the onset of 3G networks by top telecommunications carriers such as Docomo in Japan and British Telecom have not deterred chip makers from ramping up for next-generation wireless applications. This includes the collaboration announced late last month between IBM Microelectronics and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to design RF chipsets for 3G mobile phones.
The agreement follows in the wake of Intel Corp.'s initiative with Mitsubishi Electric announced last year, which Intel says is still proceeding as planned.
IBM Microelectronics' development of integrated low-power noise amplifiers for current and next-generation cellular headsets, based on its silicon-germanium (SiGe) technology, will lead to a new suite of devices not only for Mitsubishi but for merchant OEMs as well, company executives said.
"Unprecedented demand for increased performance and functionality from wireless communication products is outstripping the capabilities of conventional semiconductor technologies," said Gary Patton, director of wireless business at IBM Microelectronics in Fishkill, N.Y. "Our work with Mitsubishi can help speed the introduction of advanced 3G phones fueled by complex chips built by us."
The SiGe chipsets IBM Microelectronics is developing for Mitsubishi include 3G receiver and transmitter components optimized to efficiently manage high-frequency signals while reducing power consumption and overall system cost through high levels of integration, Patton said. Specifically, IBM Microelectronics will develop transmit and receive analog/mixed-signal radio chips for integration into the RF component for next-generation handsets.
The company did not quantify the power efficiencies its SiGe technology will provide, but Walt Lange, manager of product marketing and strategy at IBM Microelectronics' wireless business, pointed to its collaboration with Intersil Corp., a leading 802.11 supplier, as an example.
"With our SiGe RF technology, Intersil says its wireless LAN chipsets use half the chip size and half the power of competing CMOS chipsets while offering twice the performance," Lange said. "Essentially, SiGe offers very high speeds at basically the same power level as CMOS."
Meanwhile, Vish Deshmane, a marketing manager at Intel's wireless communications group in Santa Clara, Calif., said the company's development of a baseband chipset for Mitsubishi is still on track, although a completion date has yet to be disclosed.
Deshmane also said that Intel's program for next-generation wireless chips remains a key focus. "The emergence of 3G has taken a lot longer than originally hoped for, but at the same time, our product line has not changed," he said. "Our intention is to get our 3G products out in the same time frame as originally planned. Although there have been some delays in the deployment of 3G, we're obviously still working on getting the devices ready."
IBM Microelectronics will make its new RF chips at its Burlington, Vt., plant, and intends to ship the SiGe chipsets in volume to Mitsubishi in the fourth quarter. Pricing was not disclosed.