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Frontier Silicon, SigmaTel DAB partnership eyes Chinese arena

Posted: 13 Sep 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Frontier Silicon? SigmaTel? DAB? digital radio? DAB processor?

Frontier Silicon Ltd and SigmaTel Inc. are partnering up to offer a combined digital audio broadcasting (DAB), FM and MP3 player platform for portable devices, targeted at Chinese OEMs.

The partnership was announced last week, days before Beijing Radio lit up a new network for digital audio broadcast, part of China's overall push to roll out digital audio and video services before the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But the early market for these OEMs will continue to be the United Kingdom, where the popularity of DAB has been growing for three years, said Rachel Jones, Frontier's manager for DAB products. "It's a little pricey right now for the China market, but the [reference design] is a steppingstone, so you will see prices come down," she said.

Frontier will contribute its Naples FS 2011 triband DAB/FM digital radio module, which includes the Apollo RF front end and Chorus DAB baseband processor. SigmaTel will offer its STMP3500 series MP3 processor and portable audio system-on-chip. Both devices have been available as separate modules, and now will come integrated into Atlas 2, a 55-by-60-by-6.5mm reference design that includes a keyboard and LCD.

Low-priced, simple MP3 players are wildly popular in China, but DAB is still in its early stages. The Atlas will enable Chinese OEMs with little RF integration experience to begin designing products. Until now, that had been a hurdle, especially in handheld devices. With the bar lowered, dozens of companies may decide to enter the market, driving prices down on midrange MP3/DAB platforms, which have typically sold for $250.

In June, China approved DAB as a standard (GY/T 214-2006) and said it will soon officially allocate spectrum in VHF Band III (174MHz to 239MHz) or the L Band (1,450MHz to 1,495MHz). Several cities in China are already testing DAB and some are also using DAB-based terrestrial-digital multimedia broadcasting, a South Korean technology, for video trials. Beijing Radio turned its signal on last Thursday, and will offer 12 radio stations and trial broadcasts of two TV channels, Beijing TV 1 and CCTV 1.

DAB handsets
China's Lenovo is supposed to start selling DAB-enabled handsets by year's end, but they will probably be priced at more than $500 each, making them niche products here. The Chinese government wants to see that price drop below $350 so that a million handsets are sold in Beijing before the Olympics, but they will not likely interfere with the market pricing.

SigmaTel is already a major player in China, supplying local OEMs like Aigo. Its STMP3500 is used in MP3 flash players, language learners and jukeboxes, and supports MP3 and WMA audio formats as well as security in WMA digital rights management. The Atlas 2 platform includes flexibility for optional hardware FM, selectable memory size, keyboard and LCD options.

The system may be powered by a 1,000-milliamp-hour lithium-ion/polymer battery pack, or via a mini-B type-B connector. It provides on-board charging and power management. Charging time is three to five hours, and playback for MP3s lasts about 20 hours while DAB use is about 10 hours.

It includes an MMI interface implemented on either a 1.1-inch single-color OLED or backlit graphics FSTN display. A separate customizable keyboard pc board provides navigation and shortcut keys to menus and functions. The headphone antenna acts as the Band II (FM) and Band III antenna. Files can be stored to internal flash or to SD cards.

Available now, Atlas 2 complies with the RoHS directive. Pricing will depend on the SigmaTel chips used, Jones said.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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