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Qualcomm mobile chip powers first Android handset

Posted: 26 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Android phone? mobile chip? 3G? Qualcomm design win?

Qualcomm Inc. may have secured its place inside the first Android cellphone but analysts believe that stiff competition from rival wireless chip vendors will follow on future handsets running the Google Inc.-backed OS.

The first Android-powered handset, the G1, was introduced Sept. 24 in New York by T-Mobile USA. The handset is manufactured by Taiwan's HTC Corp. and features Qualcomm's dual-core MSM7201A semiconductor with integrated processing, multimedia, graphics capabilities and multi-mode 3G mobile broadband connectivity.

"I think it gives them consumer mindset. A lot of people are going to associate Android with Qualcomm and with HTC," said Will Strauss, principal researcher at Forward Concepts. "It's certainly going to give them 20 feet in front of the next guy, but that can only hold off the competition for a certain amount of time."

The Open Handset Alliance the group of companies created to develop and promote Android as an open Linux-based alternative to proprietary OS for mobile devicesincludes Qualcomm as well as rivals such as Texas Instruments Inc., Broadcom Corp. and Marvell Semiconductor Inc.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, a number of vendors showed off Android-based prototype handsets, including Qualcomm, TI and Marvell. STMicroelectronics showed off its Nomadik multimedia application processor, the STn8815, ported to various OS, including Android.

Qualcomm advantage
"Being in the first phone with that OS is an advantage," said Allen Nogee, principal analyst at In-Stat. "The integration with the OS is the tough part, and it shows that they've got that worked out." He added that it doesn't mean there won't be other Android handsets that incorporate chips from Qualcomm's rivals.

"It certainly doesn't mean [Qualcomm] will be the only chip supplier to Android handsets," said Tina Teng, an analyst with iSuppli Corp. "I don't think that is what Google would want, either."

Analysts said it was no surprise that Qualcomm's chip was designed into an HTC handset given the longstanding collaboration between the companies. Strauss noted that Qualcomm is an equity investor in HTC (Qualcomm announced minority equity investment in the company in 2001).

"We certainly have first mover advantage," said Jason Bremner, senior director of Qualcomm's cellular products group, of being in the first Android phone. Bremner added that Qualcomm has been working with Google for two years on Android but, noting the presence of competitors within the alliance, added, "It certainly isn't an exclusive relationship."

More Android handsets in the works?
Teng said she does not expect any other handsets running Android to come out this year. She said she expects Motorola Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd to bring out handsets based on Android next year.

Nogee said he isn't aware of any other imminent Android handset introductions, but said he wouldn't be surprised to see a few others this year. "It's still early in the year," he said. "There could be more out by Christmas time."

HTC, Motorola, Samsung and LG Electronics Inc. are all members of the Open Handset Alliance. Bremner said Qualcomm is working with other OEMs to develop handsets that operate on the Android platform but declined to say which vendors.

Bremner said integrating Android into MSM7201A required a big R&D commitment, but declined to provide specific numbers. "I can certainly tell you that we made a significant investment in Linux and we have made a big contribution to Android to make it successful," he said.

Qualcomm will work to support Linux-based systems on its other dual-core single chip handset chips, Bremner said. He declined to offer a timeline for this integration, but said the work would be easier now that the first one is done.

The MSM7201A features an ARM11 applications processor and ARM9 modem and supports W-CDMA/HSUPA and EGPRS networks. It integrates QDSP400 and QDSP500 digital signal processors as well as Mobile Digital Display Interface, Bluetooth 1.2 baseband processor and Wi-Fi support. The chip was originally developed to target the Microsoft Mobile OS.

The G1 phone has a touch-sensitive screen enabled by Synaptics Inc.'s ClearPad sensor. It also features a computer-like keyboard, Wi-Fi connections and includes Google applications and services, like Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube. It comes in black, white or brown and will initially retail for $179 in the United States. The phone will be available in Europe starting in November.

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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