Handset designs: combine functions that users want

Matthew Phillips/CSR
14 Jan 2009

The number of technologies that could go into a current or future mobile phone is huge and growing continually - from short-range wireless technologies to almost ubiquitous functions such as cameras and internet capability. These technologies are changing not only how people use their phones, but the fundamental ways in which handsets must be designed.

The challenge that designers now face is which of these technologies to select to offer a handset that is suitably differentiated. It is also crucial that the technologies selected do not have an unwanted impact on the key design elements, particularly on the crucial constrains of portable design, space, cost and power.

A growing number of features that are becoming standard in mobile handsets, include Bluetooth, music players and, to a lesser extent, Wi-Fi. Bluetooth is already embedded in over 50% of mobile phones and this is expected to reach 55-60% by the end of 2008. The combination of MP3 music players and phones is a logical one and you don't have to spend very long on public transport to witness the growing number of people now using their phones in this way.

Also, there is a growing list of other technologies that offer the potential to boost the attractiveness and functionality of the mobile phone such as FM radio with radio data system functions, or GPS for navigation and the added benefits of location-based services. Other short-range wireless technologies are also queuing up to nudge their way into the tightly packed mobile phone. Wireless standards such as near field communication (NFC), Bluetooth low energy and ultra wideband (UWB) build on the success of the adoption of Bluetooth, but take wireless connectivity to new levels and open up a wide range of new applications.

Consumers are hungry for these technologies to be integrated into mobile handsets, but only if there is no adverse effect on its usability, design or performance. And although some current high-end handsets have rewritten the rules on how much a mobile phone can sell for, the cost is by and large still an issue.

The integration challenge is therefore a delicate balancing act. The average mobile phone design does not have the capacity to house an additional four radio integrated circuits if a mobile phone maker wishes to include FM, GPS, UWB and NFC for example.

One way to approach this is to adopt the "Ëœintegrate everything now' approach on a single-chip. This ignores any ill-effects that combining multiple technologies creates. It also side-steps the question of how well the technologies sit together and whether there is actually any benefit derived from the integration.

Perhaps even more fundamental is the question of whether customers actually want certain technologies to be integrated on a single piece of silicon. If two technologies have wildly different attach rates in mobile phones, combination chips will waste money and power.

With the recent launch of its BlueCore7 product range, CSR has opted for a strategy of what it calls "Ëœsmart integration'. BlueCore 7 is a highly-integrated chip and is a good example of the way in which a company can combine functions in a way that makes sense for the customer. This single-chip CMOS IC measures less than 4x4mm yet includes Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR, Bluetooth low energy, enhanced GPS, an FM transmitter and FM receiver with RDS.

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