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TI rolls 3G chipsets for handsets, basestations

Posted: 06 Feb 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:texas instruments? tcs4105? tbb4105? twl3024? trf6151m trf6031?

With clearly defined performance goals, Texas Instruments Inc. has launched two lines of 3G UMTS RF and baseband chipsets, one for handsets and one for basestations. TI believes they will halve handset power consumption and double basestation channel density.

Emphasizing voice instead of data, TI is coming to a market dominated by Matsushita, NEC, and Motorola. However, its ability to leverage advanced processes, integration, power management and RF functionality, along with its already established DSP customers for basestations, may well be the wedge the company needs.

So armed, TI is aiming to provide a more realistic solution to the size and power-consumption woes that have afflicted carriers such as NTT Docomo as they try and draw customers to more advanced handsets and services.

"TI might have been smart to wait and not jump in early to face all the problems [now besetting chip suppliers for handsets]," said Allen Nogee, wireless analyst with Cahners/In-Stat. "Also," he added, "multimedia [in general] has been played down a lot, as voice is what the carriers are focused on. TI was smart to keep a focus on voice."

'Mass-market' product

For handsets, TI's TCS4105 four-piece chipset comprises the TBB4105 W-CDMA and GSM/GPRS baseband processor, the TWL3024 power-management chip, and two direct-conversion transceivers: the TRF6151, a GSM/GPRS quad-band device, and the TRF6301 transceiver for W-CDMA.

The bulk of the chips use 0.13?m processes with a road map toward 90nm. The TWL3024 manages the accompanying OMAP applications processors, announced earlier this week.

"This is our first UMTS chipset, a standard product for the mass market," said Tom Pollard, chipset marketing manager for TI's wireless-terminals business unit. "Our advantage is that we have all the pieces for 3G handset and reference designs, along with our Bluetooth business and WLAN and GPS technology."

While integration and advanced direct-conversion transceivers go far in minimizing power consumption, Pollard emphasized the power-management angle. "The power-management chip's awareness of both the baseband and applications processor is a key contributor, with lots of integrated LDOs," he said. As many as 27 LDO regulators are on board, said Jim Koutras, worldwide marketing manager for 3G chipsets.

The power manager uses TI's A07 analog process and to manage it, said Koutras, TI developed a complex power control state machine that allows the handset to control the LDO resources. When combined with the Omap1610 applications processor, Koutras believes the device can double the standby time of 3G handsets for NTT's system from 55h to 110h.

On the basestation side, the company is further dropping the cost of an infrastructure technology that Nogee said is already half that of GSM on a per-user basis, thanks to the inherent efficiencies of the wideband-CDMA air interface. Nogee termed W-CDMA "a cheap voice solution" with "great capacity."

But costs can never be too low, said Tan Rao, chipset marketing manager for TI's wireless-infrastructure business unit, especially in ASIC design. "We are slashing OEM ASIC device cost. We have a programmable chipset that eliminates the OEM's up front development costs. We have doubled the channel density and so have given them a 50 percent cost savings - but without sacrificing their ability to differentiate themselves."

The three-chip solution comprises the TCI100 DSP, a 720MHz version of the 600MHz C6416; the TCI110 receive chip-rate ASSP; and the TCI120 transmit chip-rate ASSP. These application-specific standard products handle the processing-intensive spreading, scrambling, path-monitoring, and rake-receiver functions in a UMTS modem. "So all three offer customers ASIC-plus-DSP benefits but minus cost and time-to-market disadvantages of a custom ASIC program," said Tao.

To tackle deployment costs, the chipset uses a highly efficient buffered interface between the ASSPs and the DSP that Rao said is key to the doubling in overall channel density. The ASSPs are flexible enough to be hardware configured through registers and commands under DSP control, thereby allowing the chips to be programmed for their operating environment.

"A rural customer would configure it for a smaller number of users, less fingers per user [less multipath interference], a larger search window [cell] size and a longer accumulation length," said Rao. An urban customer would do the opposite. "This is suited to both and can support up to 64 voice channels," he said.

ASIC functionality

TI's basestation strategy has some interesting "what ifs," said Jeff Bier of Berkeley Design Technology Inc., an independent DSP technology analysis firm. "TI wants to defend their DSP franchise, so before someone subsumes the DSP functionality into their chips, TI is trying to subsume the ASIC functionality into their DSPs," Bier said. "It's partly a defensive strategy."

From the equipment side, Bier sends out a "caveat emptor." "Even if [equipment makers] are convinced that TI's chipsets are what they need right now, are they just going to fire all their [ASIC] chip designers? What about the next generation?" he asked. "They are really relying on TI doing the right thing over and over again."

Commercial samples of the TCS4105 handset chipset are planned for Q3. The TCIxxx basestation suite, with two DSPs and the two ASSPs, will also sample in Q3, priced at $480 in lots of 10,000.

- Patrick Mannion

EE Times

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