TI and STM produce samples of 3G CDMA chips

Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) and STMicroelectronics NV (STM) are producing samples of chips that will allow manufacturers to build 3G cell phones based on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, the companies announced earlier this month.

The new chips are based on the Evolution-Data-Voice (EV-DV) standard that accelerates the bandwidth of CDMA cellular networks, said Joe Thome, business director for CDMA chipset products at TI. The chips will allow cell phone users to download applications or access data at speeds between 470Kbps and 1.7Mbps under real-world conditions, he said.

Currently, there are no EV-DV networks in place. TI and STM are building the chips for phones that will be used with a pilot program planned by South Korean wireless provider LG Telecom later this year, Thome said.

TI manufactured the TBB5160 digital baseband chip that serves as the chipset’s modem, as well as two transmit and receiver chips. STM built the power management chip. The entire package is designed specifically for cell phones, and it will work alongside applications processors such as TI’s OMAP, STM’s Nomadik or Intel Corp.’s XScale processors, Thome said.

There are fewer CDMA networks worldwide compared to networks based on the leading standard, Global System for Mobile Communications-General Packet Radio Service (GSM/GPRS), but CDMA networks are strong in the U.S. and dominant in South Korea. Canada has two GSM/GPRS wireless service providers, Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. in Toronto, and Montreal’s Microcell Telecommunications Inc., which operates the “Fido” network. Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility operate CDMA networks.

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System-Wideband CDMA (UMTS/WCDMA) networks are the 3G standard of choice for the GSM/GPRS carriers, and are starting to roll out across Europe and the U.S. after years of delays. TI also manufactures UMTS/WCDMA chipsets, which allow peak data transfer speeds of about 2Mbps under ideal conditions.

South Korean wireless providers have already launched CDMA2000 1x EV-DO (Evolution-Data-Only) networks as an improvement to existing CDMA2000 1x 3G service, but as the name implies those networks can only transmit data packets, not voice signals, said Will Strauss, principal analyst with Forward Concepts Co. in Tempe, Arizona.

The EV-DV standard is expected to eventually replace the EV-DO standard, because wireless carriers aren’t excited about having to set up separate voice and data channels on their networks, Strauss said.

Every channel taken away from voice communications removes a steady source of revenue that data communications might eventually replace, but the market for wireless data communications is still in its infancy, Strauss said. Its difficult to predict how much revenue the carriers will see from data services, so it’s tempting to wait for EV-DV, he said.

Sprint Corp. has decided to wait for EV-DV phones and networking equipment before rolling out a 3G network, while Verizon Wireless Inc. has moved ahead with a 3G rollout based on the EV-DO standard, Strauss said.

Users won’t see EV-DV networks in the U.S. before at least 2007, he said. Qualcomm Inc. has also announced a cellular chipset that supports a number of 3G standards including EV-DV, EV-DO and UMTS/WCDMA, but samples of the MSM7600 product are not expected to ship until 2006.

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