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Platform enables low-cost feature phones

Posted: 01 May 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:GSM GPRS? applications processor? smartphones? handset designs?

Chipnuts Technology Inc. is looking to exercise soft power to elbow its way into the China market for midlevel to high-end feature phones. The Shanghai-based company is touting a reference design that includes a Linux-based OS and suite of business applications as well as an applications processor, all targeted at local handset makers looking to design smart phones that would retail for less than $200.

Once just a PC chipset designer, Chipnuts is branching out to compete in the handset world, increasingly dominated by platforms. The reference design marries the newly designed C7280 applications processor and SmartNX Mobile software suite with NXP Semiconductors' Nexperia 5110LC GSM/GPRS chipset or Infineon Technologies' ULC1 GSM/GPRS chipset. The match takes advantage of a recent trend in China, wherein system designers start with ultralow-cost chipsets, originally targeted at basic handsets, and pair those chips with applications processors to create a powerful feature phone with an attractive BOM.

Having the in-house capability to create an advanced OS, such as SmartNX, makes it much easier for handset makers to get their product onto store shelves. That's important in China, where midsized system developers don't always carry a deep bench of engineers and rely more heavily on chip designers for product integration.

Chipnuts didn't start out with that OS capability. It focused mostly on hardware until about a year ago. Then, after working with a local software design team on the NX platform, Chipnuts executives realized the need to have such a team in-house if it wanted to offer a complete platform. It bought the 100-person software team a few months later.

"In China, you don't get much value from software alone. We had the hardware platform, so it made sense for us to get together," said John Yu, chief operating officer at Chipnuts.

Now, the company is ramping up the C7280 and SmartNX Mobile platform for customers in China. Called the Solution-on-Chip, it was displayed at the NXP and Infineon booths at this year's 3GSM World Congress. Chipnuts hopes to market the platform worldwide once it gets a few design wins under its belt in China, Yu said.

C7280 is at the heart of the SoC. SmartNX OS rounds out platform.

The C7280 is based on a 32bit ARM core and a dedicated audio DSP, video accelerator and other peripherals. The accelerator allows for MPEG-4 decoding and encoding at up to 30fps (QVGA).

The device comes with a standard slate of multimedia codecs and builds in a power amplifier capable of driving 8-ohm speakers. An on-chip PLL serves as the clock source, and there is also an on-chip 32kHz crystal oscillator for internal RTC timer, and power-on and power-off control logic with power-on reset circuit, the company said. Multiple power-saving modes reduce system power consumption.

The SmartNX OS is a key part of the platform that goes beyond the firmware and software application programming interfaces offered by many larger companies. The package includes a suite of business applications, including a personal information manager, secure data and messaging, including push e-mail. It also includes a slate of entertainment applications, including karaokea popular pastime in China.

The company has designed and tested a reference design that enables a turnkey solution for local handset designers. A Win32-compatible API is included for porting and customizing applications.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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