MANHASSET, N.Y. The oft-hyped and still lukewarm mobile TV market is re-emerging with a vengeance at the Mobile World Congress next week as Broadcom joins the fray with the industry's first single-chip DVB-T/DVB-H system-on-chip based on 65-nm CMOS process technology.
By using 65-nm technology for the first time for a mobile TV chip, Broadcom claims its BCM2940, a monolithic digital CMOS mobile TV receiver/demodulator, reduces power consumption by up to 40 percent and physical dimensions by up to 30 percent from current handset design budgets.
By contrast, a majority of largely start-up competitors have implemented mobile TV solutions either in two separate RF and demodulation ICs or in a system-in-package design. Heavyweights such as Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics, once the presumptive leaders in mobile TV chips, have encountered a far smaller market than anticipated.
TI was the first to design a single-chip DVB-H receiver, called the Hollywood chip using a 90-nm technology, but the company hasn't announced a major design win. ST put its project on the back burner more than a year ago.
Single-die mobile TV chips, nonetheless, are setting a new trend. A day before Broadcom's 65-nm SoC announcement this week, Abilis Systems (Zurich, Switzerland) unveiled its own digital mobile TV receiver for DVB-H/T applications. Abilis integrated a multiband RF tuner, an OFDM demodulator, memory and interfaces onto a single 90-nm CMOS die.
One mobile TV chip developer called called Broadcom's announcement "a bold move." Azzedine Boubguira, vice president of marketing and business development at DiBcom (Palaiseau, France) said, "We've seen no advantage at all to go 65 nanometers, considering the current, still slow mobile TV market." But Boubguira added that Broadcom's entry may signal that mobile TV is finally ready for prime time.
Broadcom's chip may be arriving just in time. While acknowledging that "timing is always tricky," Bob Rango, Broadcom's senior vice president of wireless connectivity, said his company intends to intersect with growing "free, over-the-air" mobile TV markets such as Germany and Russia, where commercial services have just been rolled out, with full implementation expected over the next three years.
Broadcom's advantage over mobile TV-only competitors may be its range of 65-nm connectivity products for cellphones such as GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and FM, Rango said. These products can easily absorb 65-nm mobile TV functions, he added.
Asked when such integration will happen, Rango responded, "When an attach rate reaches 25 percent, it is close enough to warrant integration."
Just as many mobile handsets come with a camera and Bluetooth, Rango said "mobile TV will become one of those features in a phone, adding that "when the Olympic Games come onto a mobile TV, why wouldn't [people] watch it on their handsets?"
Rango blamed mobile TV's woes on "service offerings that haven't been robust enough" and a pay-per-view model that are less attractive to most users. Broadcom is better that a free, over-the-air model already successful in Japan and Korea, will catch on in Europe.
More important, he said, "Low-power alternatives [for mobile TV reception] will finally enable us to go to carriers and tell them that there will be enough [battery power] left for people to make calls--even after watching a lot of TV."
When implemented in a handset along with a multimedia chip that handles video decoding, for example, Broadcom claims that its new mobile TV tuner/demodulator chip will double mobile TV viewing time.
"If the existing target battery life is 1.5 hours of continuous TV viewing, we can double it to three hours," said Rango.
Power consumption can always be reduced at the expense of performance. Broadcom claims its chip exceeds industry specifications for mobile devices and that power consumption totals 160mW when a time-slice function is "on" under typical usage conditions. Power is 0.8 mW when the time-slice function is "off."
Designed for global digital TV reception on portable devices, the BCM2940 chip supports VHF III, UHF IV and V bands. It also supports the EU/US L-bands and integrates a 4-Mb MPE-FEC SRAM to handle DVB-H parallel/consecutive streams and services. The chip offers various physical interfaces including SPI, SDIO and USB 2.0.
Broadcom said it is now sampling the chip to qualified customers. While not announcing pricing, Rango said that the DVB-T/DVB-H chip will be priced at between $4 and $6 in 2009.