HOUSTON -- Compaq Computer Corp. today became the first handheld PC maker to announce it was using GSM/GPRS chip sets from Analog Devices Inc. to provide wireless communications over digital 2.5-G cellular networks.
Other suppliers of wireless computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are also now migrating to Global System for Mobile (GSM) cellular networks and general packet radio service (GPRS), which were initially deployed for mobile telephones, said Analog Devices. "They all end up using basically the same functions," noted Doug Grant, director of business development at Analog Devices in Norwood, Mass.
Analog Devices said GPRS is now the fastest-growing wireless data system in the world with coverage widespread in Europe and Asia. By mid-2002, completion of nationwide coverage in the U.S. market is planned by major North American carriers, such as Voicestream, AT&T Wireless and Cingular, Grant noted. GPRS packet-based services promise data rates five times faster than other wireless systems, he said.
Compaq's new "Wireless Pack" for its iPAQ Pocket PCs employs seven ICs from Analog Devices, including the company's Othello and SoftFone chip sets. Three chips are used in the radio portion of the wireless system, while two ICs make up the GSM/GPRS baseband. Analog Devices is also supplying a power management IC for Compaq's iPAQ system.
Analog Devices would not release information about the potential value of the Compaq system, which is now in production and expected to become available to end users in December. "We have been working with them for about a year," said Grant in an interview.
"Up until this year, most of the activity for these chip sets have been in the cellular phone segment, but as GPRS networks roll out, pretty much everyone in the handheld PC business or PDA space has discovered that a useful wireless network was becoming available," he added.
With GPRS being offered on GSM networks, "we are consistently seeing over 50-kilobits-per-second connections in the downstream," Grant said. For upstream transmissions (from the wireless unit), the "sweet spot now seems to be 14.4 or 28.8 Kbit/sec., with 56K downstream," added Grant.
Analog Devices is now integrating its three-chip Othello set into one IC for the radio portion of a GMS/GPRS solution. That next-generation device is expected to be introduced early in 2002, according to Grant. "On the baseband side, there will be some additional integration as well as increasing the performance and lowering power consumption," he said.
Chip set suppliers are now battling each other to lower the overall cost of PDAs, handheld PCs, 2.5G cell phones and other handsets, Grant said. "We're not just focused on making chip sets cheaper, but we're looking at how many extra components can be eliminated or absorbed into the set," he explained. "Chip sets are now judged the complete bill of materials and not unit prices of ICs," he added.
"For a GSM cell phone--including display, plastics, key pad, connectors and other parts--the range is $40-to-$45," Grant told SBN in a phone interview.
--J. Robert Lineback