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Handset design coming of age in China

Posted: 16 Dec 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ic insights? china? ningbo bird? cellphone? ericsson?

A recent IC Insights Inc. report has put mainland China's Ningbo Bird at the No. 8 position in the worldwide ranking of cellphone makers. What a difference just a few years can make!

Who would have imagined in the late 1990s that the hegemony of the big boys clubEricsson, motorola and nokiawould be challenged by neophytes like Ningbo Bird and tcl?

Today, China's efforts in the handset arena have brought forth one of the most intriguing design stories in the world of electronics.

Handset design in mainland China started in the late 1990s with literally no design. It was just an assembly of semi-knock-down (SKD) kits from ODM firms in Taiwan and South Korea. Cellphone manufacturers like Ningbo Bird and TCL merely focused on re-branding and distribution channels.

Some companies making washing machines and television sets made a big leap into the cellphone business without any design, prototyping and certification capabilities. In some cases, handset OEMs established strategic partnerships with silicon vendors; in others, ODMs like Cellon International bridged the gap between chipmakers and handset manufacturers in China.

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

Cellphone circuitry has become the microcosm of electronic design, making it a fascinating case study. From power amplifiers to RF transceivers, DSP-centric baseband to camera-phone modules, display drivers to power management silicon, the blue of today's handset represents pretty much everything we see in the electronics-design space.

Though it may seem that the rise of China-made cellphones has come relatively quickly, it took a tremendous amount of energy and perseverance in the part of China's handset industry.

Once mainland design engineers started to learn the black magic of RF design and the ins and outs of a baseband processor, new challenges were in the wingssuch as integrating color screens, putting in the camera and then supporting Java.

That's apart from dealing with the usual suspects like fractured spec development, short design cycles, shrinking number of components and tiny but high-resolution displays. Every new handset model practically raises the bar for the technology.

Today, design houses in mainland are catching up with ODMs in Taiwan and South Korea. China seized the day in the digital handset arena and the same model could be emulated in other sectors of the electronics business.

- Majeed Ahmad

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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