LONDON Texas Instruments Inc. expects to ship 200 million units of its single chip wireless ICs based on the company's Digital RF process technology (DRP) by the end of this year.
The company revealed the target as it is celebrates the fifth anniversary and successful execution of a much publicized promise to push the boundaries of singe chip wireless ICs.
On Monday (Sept. 17) TI said that since that promise in September 2002, it has shipped "tens of millions" of devices made on its breakthrough DRP technology, ranging from what it says was the first single chip phone modem to numerous multi-radio devices. It added it has developed a dozen designs of wireless single chip parts and that the majority of these have been shipped in the past 12 months, indicating that the single-chip market is growing fast.
The first DRP-based part was the 6100 Bluetooth chip, which started shipping in volume in 2004, made on a 130-nm process "and the next one in the pipeline, and now using our 65-nm process, will be a version of the LoCosto Ultra Low Cost device, which is already sampling," Bill Krenik, CTO of the Wireless Terminals Business Unit at TI, told EE Times .
The DRP architecture and technology, on which TI had been working since 1997 when it realized that a road map for cellular chips could only be implemented cost effectively through a fundamental redesign of both radio architectures and the means of manufacturing the parts, has been fine tuned ever since.
The DRP was to serve as the company's overarching general RF solution with the cost and power benefits needed for volume CMOS manufacturing across the whole range of air interfaces that were evolving for mobile communications.
It has not only done so, but , according to Krenik, will form the backbone of its offerings in the most recent and emerging standards for 3G , HSDPA and even high data Long Term Evolution (LTE) standards.
As well as the BlueLink Bluetooth platform, TI's existing portfolio includes WiLink Wi-Fi devices and NaviLink GPS solutions. The company is shipping a variety of 90-nm single chips in volume, including the LoCosto solution.
And as well as readying the 65-nm version of the LoCosto, it is set to start sampling in the same process the OMAPV 1035 eCosto device, which supports GSM, GPRS and Edge platforms. WiLink 6.0 and BlueLink 7.0 single chips are also set to be sampling by the end of this year.
Volume production of these versions is expected next year, with handsets incorporating the parts scheduled to be sold from the middle of 2008.
"All these additions will see us continuing to advance multi-radio integration technology," added Krenik.
The integrated DRP road map includes additional functionalities of wireless handsets, but some of these will not be incorporated as quickly as hoped, for commercial rather than technical reasons.
"For instance, we have our Hollywood single chip mobile TV devices, but we remain cautious about the near term prospects for this application. The pace at which the mobile TV market has been developing has been a real disappointment. We had hoped for a much more robust approach, but don’t really know when the market for mobile TV chips will really take off."
Of course "single chip" wireless device is a bit of a misnomer in the wider industry, notably for narrowband systems such as GSM. Yet most of the cellphone chips pack in the full digital baseband, SRAM, logic and processors as well as the entire transceiver, including low-noise amplifiers on the receive side to the power amplifier buffer on the transmit side.
"Full scale power control and power amplifier integration has been looked at but is not a major priority. There are just too many concerns about, for instance, system partitioning, heat dissipation and high voltage, which makes it increasingly difficult, at least in the near term," said Krenik.
"Neither do we consider it feasible in the immediate future to integrate the antenna directly on chip for a cellular application. The RF losses involved are just too problematic."
Of course TI is not the only company looking to integrate ever more functionalities on to a single chip targeting mobile terminals. Companies such as Infineon Technologies AG, IBM, Broadcom, Qualcomm, and others are looking at what is still the "Holy Grail" of the wireless chip sector, the real single chip device.