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Chinese handset design expertise could extend to other markets

Posted: 15 Dec 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ningbo bird? wireless? tcl? ericsson? motorola?

China's handsets are making major inroads into the global wireless market, with companies like Ningbo Bird joining the list of top manufacturers.

A recent industry report ranked China's Ningbo Bird No. 8 in the worldwide list of top cellphone makers. Observers said this would have been unimaginable in the late 1990s that Chinese manufacturers like Ningbo Bird and TCL could challenge top companies like Ericsson, Motorola and nokia.

China's foray into the global handset market has also improved its design capabilities. Handset design in mainland China started in the late 1990s. Before then, Chinese companies focused on assembling "semi-knock-down" (SKD) kits from ODMs in Taiwan and South Korea. Cellphone manufactures like Ningbo Bird and TCL were merely focusing on rebranding and distribution channels.

Some Chinese appliance and TV makers have also made the leap into the cellphone business despite their lack of design, prototyping and certification capabilities. In some cases, handset OEMs established strategic partnerships with silicon vendors. ODMs like Cellon International have helped bridge the gap between chip makers and handset manufacturers.

The next phase of handset design in mainland China embodies the tested recipe of mixing wireless system designer's guile with IC vendors' catalog. The launch of 2.5G phones revealed signs of significant local engineering as Chinese handset makers moved quickly up the value chain by beefing up their design expertise.

Cellphone circuitry has become a microcosm of electronic design. From power amplifiers to RF transceivers, DSP-centric baseband to camera phone modules, display drivers to power management silicon, the guts of handsets represent most of what makes up today's electronics design industry.

Once mainland design engineers developed expertise in RF and baseband processor design, they moved on to new challenges like integrating color screens, cameras support for Java applications.

Designers also learned to cope with delayed standards, short design cycles, shrinking numbers of components and working with tiny, high-resolution displays. Every new handset model raises the technology bar.

Chinese design houses are on the road to catching up with ODMs in Taiwan and South Korea. China's success in the digital handset market could be emulated in other sectors of electronics business, observers said.

- Majeed Ahmad

EE Times

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