Nalini Muppala

Analysis, observations, perspectives on mobile space

Smartphone Ecosystem (Part 4) : Devices-2

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Smartphones and an increasing number of feature phones have a variety of connectivity options. Bluetooth, WLAN, GPS, and FM all were discrete parts not so long ago. Advances in radio integration have lead to a variety of combinations of the connectivity radios. In some cases they are combined with baseband as well.

Connectivity: More combo chips

CSR, TI, Broadcom, and Marvell have seen good uptake of their standalone Bluetooth and WLAN solutions. However, the share of phones using combo chips that provide more than one connectivity solution is on the rise. This approach saves power consumption and cost.

While FM capabilities are common in Nokia, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson, HTC, and LG phones, most Western phone makers seem reluctant to add this feature.

GPS attach rates, in general, have been on the rise resulting in 150 million GPS capable phones units shipped in 2009 – growth of 92% over 2008. Qualcomm has been making life tough for GPS chips makers by integrating GPS functionality into its MSM and Snapdragon platforms. TI continues to hold some GPS design wins at Nokia. Location-based Services and the recent availability of free navigation tools from Google and Nokia will ensure that GPS-ready phones will be more attractive.

2009 saw 20% growth in handsets featuring WLAN capability. In fact, 19% of phones installed base are WiFi capable. With Bluetooth 3.0 (high speed) relying on WLAN for PHY layer, the attach rates of one could propel another.

Design wins in some popular smartphones – Connectivity


Various combinations of connectivity solutions can be seen in various designs. For example, Broadcom BCM2048, which combines Bluetooth and FM, is quite popular. A Bluetooth + WLAN combination is found in the iPhone 3G, Palm Pre, and Google Nexus One. TI’s TWL5030  (audio + power management + USB PHY) is found in several phones.

Marvell recently took a big leap in combo connectivity chips with Avastar 88W8788, which integrates WLAN, Bluetooth, FM, and GPS and will go into production in the second half of 2010. Marvell provided WLAN for the iPhone 3G. iPhone 3Gs used a Bluetooth+WLAN combo chip from Broadcom. Marvell might be able to win back iPhone designs with this four-radio combo device, if Apple puts out a cheaper model. In any case, this beast of a connectivity solution should find a lot of interest from new phone designs aiming at broadening smart phone base.

In sum, it appears that efforts are underway to combine various functionality into about three combo parts – one for baseband and application processor and some other digital logic, one for RF and connectivity radios, and one for power management, audio, USB PHY, and related functionality. Until we arrive at such jumbo combo chips, designers will have to pick and choose the right combo parts and standalone parts to fit their needs and bill of material.

The next post will conclude the device roundup by looking at who provide the remaining slots.

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Written by Nalini Kumar Muppala

April 12, 2010 at 9:00 pm

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