Electronic Design

What's Driving Wireless?

Projected to ship more than 780 million units in 2008, cellular handsets maintain their lead as one of the largest consumer markets. While industry analysts debate the drivers of this phenomenal growth, size, integration, ease-of-use, and value- added features continue to lure customers (including the end customer), OEMs, and network providers. This market inevitably will mature in the next few years. But developments in the semiconductor industry will drive the cellular market to new frontiers.

Consumers crave an assortment of applications from their cellular handsets: text messaging, digital cameras, video, MP3 players, FM radios, and interactive games . The attach rate of these devices is ever increasing. For example, the attach rate for Bluetooth alone is expected to reach over 50% by 2008.

This growing trend toward feature-rich devices also drives the need for new high-speed data technologies, such as Enhanced Data Rate for GSM Evolution (EDGE) and 3G, which will support the increasing amounts of data traffic and new multi-media applications being developed. In Europe, 3G deployment is playing an integral role in accelerating market growth. EDGE is set to take off, particularly in the U.S., with serious ramping up expected to begin in 2005.

Emerging markets such as China, India, and South America represent additional areas for growth. In these markets, wireless is leapfrogging wired legacy networks. Wireless technology also is being implemented across their major cities.

As the handset emerges as a platform for the convergence of communications applications, the requirements for smaller, easier-to-implement components are necessary to make room for application processors, display requirements, and memory chips. Fully integrated, mixed-signal ICs that offer high performance, flexibility, and ease-of-use will continue to dominate the cellular handset market.

By selecting best-in-class components rather than reference designs or modules, handset manufacturers enjoy supply-chain control and flexibility as well as faster design cycles. In a market ruled by the consumer, ease-of-use and continuous integration will become increasingly important to handset manufacturers that must deliver cost-effective and differentiated solutions quickly.

In the next several years, the wireless handset will undergo even more integration. DigRF will come to fruition, allowing the implementation of a digital interface standard that will define an efficient physical interconnection between baseband and RF transceivers. The result will be further integration of the cellular handset by eliminating the need for analog basebands.

In addition, the industry will continue to push toward monolithic solutions, particularly those implemented in CMOS. The ultimate goal of the semiconductor industry is to integrate all functions into a monolithic IC. This is a truly difficult task, but history has proven that it's inevitable in high- volume applications. RF ICs in CMOS enable the technology leap required to meet the challenging integration and cost-savings goals of handset manufacturers.

Semiconductor companies that succeed in the cellular market will abandon incremental levels of integration that require multiple discretes. Instead, they will opt for revolutionary, first-of-a-kind innovations that push the boundaries of design, resulting in integrated, easy-to-use, high-performance solutions. The cellular industry has seen this type of innovation with the first GSM/GPRS monolithic power amplifier implemented in CMOS, a monumental feat once thought impossible. More is on the way.

TAGS: Components
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