Intel takes Manitoba to the EDGE

Designers of cellular phones based on the emerging EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) standard will be able to incorporate a new single-chip solution from Intel Corp. in phones next year, the company said Tuesday.

Intel's new PXA800EF chip builds upon the PXA800F, formerly known as Manitoba. That chip, introduced in February, was Intel's first cell phone chip to combine a DSP (digital signal processor), an applications processor based on Intel's XScale technology, and flash memory onto a single piece of silicon.

The PXA800F used GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Services) cellular networks. The new chip takes advantage of the faster data rates enabled by EDGE networks, which are viewed as a stepping stone between the so-called 2.5G GSM/GPRS networks and the long-awaited 3G networks promised by the WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) standards.

GSM/GPRS carriers in the U.S. are looking at EDGE networks as a way to compete with the CDMA2000 1x networks used by Verizon Wireless Inc. to enable data transmission speeds greater than the 30K bps (bits per second) or 40K bps allowed by GSM/GPRS networks, said Alex Slawsby, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts.

EDGE networks offer transmission speeds around twice as fast as GSM/GPRS, and about the same as CDMA2000 1x, he said.

AT&T Wireless Services Inc., T-Mobile USA Inc., and Cingular Wireless LLC are all planning to move their GSM/GPRS networks to EDGE technology, said Will Strauss, principal analyst at Forward Concepts Co. in Tempe, Arizona.

Rolling out EDGE networks also makes sense from a financial standpoint, Strauss said. Cell phone carriers have invested a great deal of money into spectrum and capital equipment purchases, and can't afford to build out extensive 3G networks right now, he said. EDGE networks are the rough equivalent of a 2.75G network, he said.

Intel left a lot of headroom in the design of the PXA800F chip, which allowed the Santa Clara, California, company to scale the chip up to the performance level required by EDGE networks, said David Rogers, marketing manager from Intel.

The applications processor on the PXA800EF runs at 312MHz. In order to accommodate the demands of EDGE networks, Intel boosted the clock rate on the DSP to 156MHz, up from the 104MHz on the PXA800F.

The PXA800EF comes with 4M bytes of Intel On-Chip flash and 512K bytes of SRAM (static RAM) dedicated to the applications processor, and an additional 512K bytes of On-Chip flash and 64K bytes of SRAM for the DSP, Intel said.

Integrating the flash memory, applications processor, and DSP allows for slightly better performance than multichip products, since the processors can execute information out of on-chip memory faster than out of memory located on an adjoining chip, Strauss said.

However, because 3G phones will demand as much as twice the amount of flash memory needed by current phones, at a certain point it no longer makes sense for cell phone chip manufacturers to integrate flash memory onto the same piece of silicon, he said. Chip manufacturers have an incentive to keep die sizes as low as possible, in order to improve yields and allow cell phone designers to keep developing small phones, he said.

Texas Instruments Inc. supplies EDGE chips to Nokia Corp., the world's largest handset vendor, Strauss said. Analog Devices Inc. and Infineon Technologies AG also manufacture chips for EDGE cell phones, he said.

As of right now, Intel has only signed up one customer for its GSM/GPRS PXA800F chip, Maxon Telecom Co. Ltd. in Taiwan, Strauss said.

Intel plans to support WCDMA as it moves up the ladder to 3G technologies, Rogers said. It has not announced support for any other 3G protocols or technologies, but is looking at supporting those standards, he said.

The PXA800EF is available in sample volumes as of Tuesday, with production volumes expected by the first quarter of 2004, and phones based on the chip later that year. The chip costs US$30 in quantities of 10,000 units.

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