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Infineon exec stays tuned to mobile TV trends

Posted: 19 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile TV? technology standards? RF tuners? China's standards?

Calarco: We never stop evolution. Technology keeps on rolling.

Like a TV series one doesn't dare miss, the mobile TV arena is a segment that Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific Pte Ltd is closely monitoring. Tuned in to the latest trends in mobile TV, the company's tuner system business unit has been developing products according to market needs and has been getting a large slice of the market.

"Last year, depending on which analyst report you look at, there were about 80 to 100 million DTV receivers sold, and we sold over 60 million of our RF tuners last year in this segment," Guiseppe Calarco, VP and general manager of Infineon's tuner system business unit, told EE Times-Asia. And with the mobile TV market gradually delivering on its promise, the Infineon executive isn't likely to push the pause button in new product development anytime soon. "We never stop evolution. Technology keeps on rolling," he said. Hence, the show goes on for Infineon's tuner system unit!the show to provide products that the changing market requires, that is.

With power management a critical issue in consumer electronics, Calarco bared that Infineon has been increasing the energy efficiency of its RF tuners. He also disclosed that the company is beefing up its operations in Asia and getting ready as China reviews the available mobile TV standards and picks one it'll choose.

RF tuners then and now
Historically, RF tuners were running at about 12V!this was in the 1980s. Calarco, who had managed the electronic design business of another company from 1990 until he joined Infineon in 2002, shared that these tuners' power consumption has decreased. "As we came into the late 1990s and early 2000, the technology allowed us to go down to 9V and 7V, which is a reduction of 40 percent," he said.

Calarco further pointed out that the industry managed to go below 7V and that "today's technology [is running] at 5V." However, aiming to raise the stakes in the low-power race, Infineon in 2006 announced a single-chip product, the TUA6039, which operates at 3.3V, about 30 percent less power than other solutions.

"[The TUA6039] integrates two previous chips into one: the TUA6034, which gives the mixer oscillator PLL; and the TDA6192, which gives the IF automatic gain control functions," the Infineon executive said of the product. "We did two things: [firstly], we converted two chips into one, which allows you to make a smaller tuner; secondly, our engineers were capable (learning from the 5V technology) to develop this product using 3V with the equivalent performance!not degrading the performance. We managed to go to 3.3V, to be exact."

While the TUA6039 is manufactured using a bipolar process, the TUA6045!another RF tuner of the company!is manufactured using BiCMOS, which is a more advanced process. This other tuner is slightly more expensive than the former product. However, it has been designed in by some Japanese companies for in-car TV. "You can now buy a product that gives you GPS and TV, which is really nice," Calarco added. As a multistandard device, both tuners can be used for various standards around the world. Both are also targeted at stationary applications.

Currently, "the CAN tuner technology has the lion's share of market," Calarco said. "Because its performance is very, very good for stationary applications." Meanwhile, an emerging tuner technology is the silicon tuner.

"A silicon tuner basically attempts to replace the CAN tuner by integrating almost 80-90 percent of the discrete components onto the silicon," the Infineon executive shared. "In order to do this, you have to move to newer technologies. For example, we have gone to this pure CMOS 130nm technology." An example of silicon tuner is the company's TUA9000, which has a power consumption range of 180-200mW. "So there is a further reduction from 330mW, [which can be achieved with TUA6039], almost 40 percent," he pointed out.

However, these tuners are not free from issues. Calarco noted that silicon tuner's performance is not as good as the CAN tuner's for stationary applications. "So the power consumption with silicon tuners is coming down further. The only issue is performance," he summed up. "[So] here we are working around the clock to increase the performance and close the gap between silicon performance and the traditional CAN tuners."

Calarco estimates that the gap will close in the next four to six years. "The earlier, the better," he said, "The CAN tuner [will continue to have] the lion's share for the next two or three years at least."

Mobile TV in other products
In the mobile segment, the market may be seeing mobile TV in a wide range of portable products. Calarco shared that from the different analyst forecasts, they learned that only 40 percent of mobile TV applications will be on mobile phones. The remaining 60 percent, on the other hand, will be in applications such as portable media players, video handhelds, game consoles, handheld computer consoles, mobile PC, automotives and even digital cameras.

"If you look at the cost of adding a mobile TV function in the overall cost of the BOM, it's quite marginal," Calarco explained. The biggest cost drivers, he said, are display and processing power. Hence, he believed that a lot of manufacturers will see integrating a mobile TV function as an opportunity to differentiate their products against their competitors. "Once this happens, the people who don't have it have to have it."

While it's redundant to have the mobile TV function in both your cellphone and digital camera, Calarco said, "do you have a choice?" If the mobile TV function becomes a must-have in digital cameras because it steps up the product features against its competitor's, every digital camera will soon include a mobile-TV function. "It's so much like the cameras in your phone," Calarco said. "I mean, it's now there."

Segmented by standards
With the whole world segmented in terms of standards, the Infineon executive has been keeping an eye on the mobile TV market and has been deliberating actions according to market needs. He believes that DVB-H is one of the three standards that will take traction globally. Aside from Europe, "we also now see DVB-H adopted by India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and a lot of South Asia-Pacific countries are looking at DVB-H." He also observed that the standard has a strong foothold in the United States. MediaFLO is also another standard in the U.S., but is limited to the country and not an open standard.

Calarco also sees Japan's Integrated Service Digital Broadcasting (ISDB-T) standard gaining foothold worldwide. The third standard that he eyes to soon have a firm grip in the market is whatever China adopts. "China is in the situation today when they are still reviewing one, two or three standards," Calarco shared. "They haven't really concluded which will be the national standards."

The world will soon find out what the third major standard will be, and if MediaFLO will be flourishing, too. "We are now monitoring very closely the progress of standards that is evolving in China," Calarco said. "And also, we are looking closely at what MediaFLO is doing."

The Infineon executive further shared the different phases of product development that they go through. "We have the concept phase," he said, "[during which we] look at the concept and ask 'Is this feasible? Is there a market? Do we have the IP, the know-how and technology?' If the answer is yes and there's a business case, we go to development." The next phases are verification, qualification of the product and industrialization of the product for mass production. The company has been following this flow. Hence, it's primary focus is on DVB-H. But anticipating the third standard next year, Infineon has begun its homework.

"If you look at the China standard, we are in the first two phases," Calarco said. "We are reviewing the concepts, and we are looking at what is required to develop this standard. It's already in the pipeline, but at the beginning phases."

He also stressed the importance of the company's philosophy in product development. "Our philosophy is to work really closely with market leaders when we are in the initial definition phase, the concept phase. Then we tend to two or three market leaders, and we take their inputs and we ask them what they need three years from now, the performance expectations that they require, and the cost structure that they need to be competitive." From this phase, he said, "we develop a product to meet the performance and the cost required by the customers in the time they require it. It sounds logical but unfortunately, not too many people do it."

With a diversified customer base composed of tier 1 Japanese, South Korean and European companies, Infineon has relocated some of its resources to beef up its presence in key regions. "So now, we have technical people in Japan," he noted. The company has also invested in Korea and put up business in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. "We are doing a lot of support from Singapore and we now have resources in China." The company is also increasing its business in China as well as Taiwan, Calarco shared. "China is really coming up to speed on design capabilities," he added.

- Maria Cecilia Carpena
EE Times-Asia

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