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Linley Newsletter

Does TI Have Role in Nokia's New World?, TI Debuts OMAP4, Extends OMAP3, ST-Ericsson Debuts First Product

February 23, 2009
Volume: 1, Issue: 4

Author: Joseph Byrne, Michael Stanford

In This Issue

Our new report A Guide to Mobile Connectivity Chips is now available. Learn about the newest Bluetooth, FM, GPS, and Wi-Fi chips, including MWC announcements. For more information, check our web site. For more information, check our web site.

Does TI Have Role in Nokia's New World?

At MWC, handset-leader Nokia announced two new suppliers for its 3G baseband processors: Broadcom and Qualcomm. Qualcomm, which has agreed to support the Symbian OS on its processors, will supply Nokia's popular smartphones. This choice was a bit of a surprise, given the bad blood between the two companies, but when they publicly buried the hatchet last year, the two pledged to work together in the future. Apparently, these weren't just empty words. Qualcomm is the leading supplier of baseband processors in non-Nokia smartphones and thus offers a low-risk solution for Nokia.

Nokia had already chosen Broadcom to supply EDGE processors, so extending this relationship to 3G is a logical step. Without access to the growing 3G market, however, Broadcom's position at Nokia was weak. This announcement affirms that Broadcom will be a significant supplier to Nokia for the long term and gives the baseband vendor a chance to reach its long-sought goal of 10% market share. Phones using the Qualcomm and Broadcom 3G chips will probably begin shipping in late 2010.

These announcements, coupled with Nokia's earlier choice of ST (now ST-Ericsson) as a 3G supplier, leave little room for Texas Instruments, which currently provides the vast majority of Nokia's cellular chips. The handset maker is rapidly converting from ASICs to ASSPs as a way to reduce its R&D expenses, so TI's termination of its baseband ASSP investment appears to leave it no role in Nokia's long-term plans. We expect TI's massive revenue from Nokia will diminish to near zero over the next four years, creating huge growth for Nokia's new suppliers. —Linley

Complete coverage of Broadcom and Qualcomm baseband products appears in our report, A Guide to Wireless Handset Processors.

TI Debuts OMAP4, Extends OMAP3

Also at MWC, Texas Instruments unveiled its fourth-generation OMAP application processor. OMAP4 upgrades the major function units found in OMAP3, more than doubling CPU performance, upgrading video resolution from 720p to 1080p, increasing camera resolution from 12 to 20 megapixels, and doubling graphics performance. Implemented in a 45nm process, the new application processor consumes about the same power as existing 65nm OMAP3 chips. TI plans to sample OMAP4 in 2H09 and bring it to mass production in 2H10.

OMAP4 implements two ARM Cortex-A9 CPUs in a symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) configuration. Cortex-A9 is the successor to Cortex-A8, which OMAP3 uses, and provides greater performance at the same clock rate by employing techniques such as a trace cache, register renaming, and speculative out-of-order execution. Because of its existing SMP support, Linux is the first operating system TI will support on OMAP4. Support for Symbian will come later, pending the porting of its recently demonstrated SMP capability.

TI continues to use PowerVR graphics processors from Imagination Technologies. OMAP4 upgrades the GPU from a PowerVR SGX530 to an SGX540, which should deliver at least twice the performance. Image and video processing are handled by TI-designed subsystems similar to those in OMAP3.

At the same time, TI announced 45nm versions of OMAP3, also due to sample in 2H09. Operating at up to 1GHz, these application processors deliver more CPU performance than their 65nm predecessors while consuming less power and costing less to produce. TI also claims a 75% improvement in graphics performance.

These announcements show that TI plans to remain at the leading edge of application-processor technology. The dual-CPU OMAP4, however, is overkill for most handheld designs. As a simple and cost-effective upgrade for existing customers, the 45nm OMAP3 will be more popular. The new products appear quite impressive, but it remains to be seen what other vendors will offer by the time TI actually delivers its new devices. —Joe.

Additional coverage of TI's OMAP processors appears in our report, A Guide to Mobile Processors.

ST-Ericsson Debuts First Product

ST-Ericsson (the new name for the conglomeration of the wireless businesses of STMicroelectronics and NXP with Ericsson's EMP unit) unveiled the U8500 baseband processor. The new chip, the first to be announced under the ST-Ericsson name, is the outcome of an agreement that ST and Nokia entered in 2007, in which Nokia's Tommi Uhari and a team of baseband designers transferred to ST to lead the development of a 3G processor.

Supporting HSPA, the U8500 supports 14.4Mbps downlinks and 5.7Mbps uplinks. Like OMAP4, the U8500 includes two SMP Cortex-A9 CPUs, supports 1080p video, and provides a GPU. Details on the latter are lacking, but we suspect ST-Ericsson is using an ARM Mali-400. ST-Ericsson expects to provide samples, built in a 45nm process, in March; we expect the chip to appear in phones around the end of 2010. Production versions will be in a 40nm process. Nokia has committed to using the U8500 as its reference platform for SMP Symbian.

Companies using ST's current Nomadik application processors face an uncertain upgrade path. ST canned the follow-on Nomadik 8200 to devote resources to building the application-processing capabilities of the 8500. The company has not announced a future standalone application processor, but it could easily create one by stripping out the HSPA baseband. Alternatively, ST-Ericsson may simply focus on the smartphone market using its integrated solution.

The U8500 is a key milestone for ST-Ericsson and its partnership with Nokia. The design's strong processing capabilities eliminate the need for the standalone application processor found in Nokia's current smartphones. The partnership gives ST-Ericsson access to Nokia's vast smartphone business. But as the Qualcomm announcement (above) shows, Nokia is not putting all of its eggs in ST-Ericsson's basket. —Joe

Complete coverage of ARM's Cortex-A9 and Mali cores appears in our new report, A Guide to CPU Cores and Processor IP.

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