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Single IC embeds DVB-H in handsets

Posted: 18 Dec 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile-TV? DVB-H? Newport Media Inc.? Texas Instruments Inc.? Hollywood?

Startup Newport Media Inc. rolled out a single chip for mobile TV that is said to have a performance edge over its competitors, thanks to a focus on low-level hardware optimizations. The company joins several rivals in a sector where expectations have been huge, but market adoption has so far been slow.

The Sundance H packs a tuner, demodulator and the memory needed to support the DVB-H mobile-TV standard for cellphones in a 7-by-7mm package. Newport Media said the device supports the lowest average power consumption at 20mW, and highest tolerance for noise at 20dB and mobility at 110Hz, compared with existing parts from competitors. The chip is slightly larger than Hollywood, the single-chip DVB-H solution from Texas Instruments.

The performance edge comes from optimized hardware. "Ours is a very hardware-centric solution. Most people use DSPs with software added. We expend no wasted cycles moving data around," said James Kamke, Newport's VP of marketing and sales.

That fact implies a trade-off for the company: Although it is generally slower to market than others, Newport Media ramps up faster, given the smaller software load it has to debug, said Kamke.

"We don't expect to be the first with any new air interface, but we will ramp quickly once we hit the market," he said. Kamke noted that Taiwan-based Compal Communications Inc. showed a working handset two weeks after a two-chip version of the Newport device started sampling earlier this year. Newport offers customers a PDA with its chip on an SD card module for fast testing. "Engineers can just plug in the card and control the chip to verify all our performance claims," said Kamke. "We knew we would be a little later to market than others, so we couldn't make customers jump through hoops to adopt our product."

The Newport chip includes a quad-band, direct-conversion radio that supports three DVB-H bandsHF with 170-240MHz, UHF with 470-858MHz and L band with 1,450-1,685MHz.

Sundance H, made in 130nm CMOS, can receive data from as many as eight channels simultaneously. It can also be used to build add-on cards for notebook computers to serve the terrestrial version of the DVB-T standard. It costs $8 in units of 10,000.

Waiting for TV-to-go
The big question for Newport and its competitors is just when a market for broadcast TV on a cellphone will become a significant reality. "We are all dressed up and ready to go, and waiting for the ball to start. It is starting in Japan, Korea and parts of Europe, but I don't think 2007 will be the breakout year for mobile TV. It will take a while longer," Kamke said.

Modeo LLC, formerly Crown Castle, was expected to launch mobile-TV services in the United States sometime this year. But the TV network builder has yet to find cellular carriers to sign up for its DVB-H service, which probably will not go live until 2007.

"We still believe DVB-H will be the largest mobile-TV market," said Kamke.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm Inc.'s Forward Link Only (FLO) service will likely be the first to switch on in the U.S. late this year, with carrier Verizon. Qualcomm is expected to use its own silicon to fill the mobile-TV needs of Verizon's handsets.

Sundance H packs demod and tuner in a 7-by-7mm device. Hardware optimizations keep average power consumption to 20mW.

However, Qualcomm is exploring licensing FLO for networks in Asia and Europe. That might open doors to other suppliers like Newport. The startup has licensed the FLO technology and said it will deliver FLO chips by the end of 2007.

Kamke would not say whether Newport initially will deliver multistandard devices or separate chipsets for the different mobile-TV standards. He did say, however, that the company hopes to support multiple standards eventually, including ISDB for Japan and T-DMB for South Korea.

"We envision products that ultimately will migrate to multimode," he said.

In Europe, Italy and Finland are the only countries with commercial DVB-H services. Operator 3Italia said it signed up 110,000 DVB-H subscribers in the first five weeks of mobile-TV operations.

Spain is hammering out licensing terms for DVB-H services, and France and Holland are testing DVB-T services, Kamke said. "It's a real mishmash," he added.

IMS Research said that by the end of 2011, nearly half a billion people will be watching TV on their cellular handsets. Driven by the adoption of broadcast-based services such as DVB-H, mobile digital TV will enjoy 50 percent year-on-year growth through 2010, IMS Research said.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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