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Linley on Mobile

ST-Ericsson Fills Out Smartphone Line, Qualcomm Expands Gobi Program, News in Brief (Icera), Latest from our blog, Linley Chips In

April 30, 2010
Volume: 2, Issue: 6

Author: Jag Bolaria, Joseph Byrne

In This Issue


A Guide to CPU Cores and Processor IPis available for immediate delivery. If you need to select IP for your ASIC or ASSP design, this report is for you.


ST-Ericsson Fills Out Smartphone Line

Despite merging handset product lines from three companies, ST-Ericsson began life with no smartphone processors other than the high-end U8500. Recently, however, the company has worked to fill out its smartphone offerings, adding the low-cost U6715 at MWC and last week rolling out a midrange product, the U5500.

The U5500 offers most of the same features as the U8500, including dual Cortex-A9 CPUs, an ARM Mali-400 graphics engine, and a powerful video engine. To position this processor below the U8500, however, the performance of these engines has been reduced. The company did not disclose details, but we expect the new U5500 to operate the CPUs at 600–800MHz (versus 1.0–1.2GHz for the U8500) and achieve about 14 million triangles per second (about half the performance of the U8500).

ST-Ericsson says the new chip supports cameras of up to 12Mpixels (versus 18Mpixels for the U8500) and can encode and decode video at 720p (versus 1080p). These lower specifications should be more than enough for mainstream smartphones in 2011. The architectural similarities between the two smartphone processors make them software compatible.

Although the U5500 looks like a down-clocked version of the U8500, it is actually a significant redesign. Since the chip is due to sample in 3Q10, more than a year after the U8500, it uses a more advanced IC process, 40nm, to reduce cost and power. It is also based on an EMP modem rather than the Nokia modem used in the U8500.

The new U5500 hits the sweet spot of the smartphone market, fitting between the U6715 and U8500. When the U5500 enters production in mid-2011, the company will have a broad range of smartphone processors, comparable to that of industry-leader Qualcomm. ST-Ericsson plans to go even further, deploying a TD-SCDMA smartphone processor, which could sample in 1H11. Already strong in standard handsets, ST-Ericsson is poised to gain ground in the lucrative and growing smartphone market. —Linley

Complete coverage of the U8500 appears in our report A Guide to Mobile Processors.


Qualcomm Expands Gobi Program

Three years ago, Qualcomm announced its first baseband chip specifically for data cards and modems, creating the Gobi brand. Today, Gobi appears in more than 50 notebook and netbook PCs. To accelerate the adoption of Gobi, Qualcomm this month announced new chips and a new software interface.

The recently announced MDM6x00 supports HSPA+ at up to 14.4Mbps on the downlink and 5.76Mbps on the uplink. Like previous Gobi chips, the MDM6600 adds CDMA EV-DO support, but the MDM6200 is the first Gobi product optimized for UMTS-only designs. For higher performance, Qualcomm offers the MDM8200A at 28Mbps and the MDM8220 at 42Mbps; these chips also lack CDMA support. All are in production except the MDM8220, which has been sampling since late 2009.

The previously announced MDM8200A and MDM8220 have now been folded into the Gobi brand along with the MDM9x00, Qualcomm's first LTE product. A further change is that the Gobi program has been expanded to target USB dongles as well as internal PC modems, although Qualcomm already dominates the dongle market with its other chips.

To facilitate software development, the company announced a new API suitable for use by software vendors and enterprise IT staff. More than 100 vendors are currently developing Gobi software to perform functions such as asset tracking and monitoring modem use.

Qualcomm's intent is clear: the company seeks to popularize cellular modems in devices beyond the cell-phone market. In addition to PCs and netbooks, other applications such as e-readers, tablet computers, and the M2M (machine to machine) market also use cellular modems. Today, Qualcomm supplies more than 70% of the baseband chips for these cellular modems. By providing an API for software development, the company hopes to spur even broader usage of cellular modems, increasing sales of its Gobi chips. —Linley

Additional coverage of Qualcomm's Gobi processors appears in our report A Guide to Wireless Handset Processors.


News in Brief

Taking advantage of its programmable architecture, Icera has rolled out a firmware upgrade that provides HSPA+ capability to its ICE8040 processor, raising its maximum download speed to 21Mbps. This speed is a significant jump from the 14Mbps achieved by the firmware released last year. The new firmware can improve the performance of ICE8040 chips that are already deployed in the field and will ship with all new devices. After this impressive jump, the ICE8040 has probably reached the limits of its internal architecture; further speed increases will await Icera's next-generation ICE8060 processor, which is due to sample by midyear. —Linley

Additional coverage of Icera appears in our report A Guide to Wireless Handset Processors.


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