A Chip That Changes Everything?

On Monday, a couple of big Silicon conferences will come to San Francisco. Even as most of the world would be gushing over the cool gizmos shown at DEMO 2004, it will be at Intel Developer Forum and the International Solid State Circuits Conference we will get a faint idea of what the future is going to look like. And the chip to watch, so to speak is going to be a tiny little piece of silicon from Texas Instruments.

The company is all set to announce a chip that can perform the functions of a cellular radio chip (hitherto made by using really expensive silicon germanium and and analog technology), which can be made pretty much like every computer chip is made, using the CMOS process. This will allow TI to add a cellular radio right into its DSP processors which are used by companies like Nokia and Palm. (Well digital CMOS radios have been around for a while, but it has been very hard to make them commercially thus far.)

This digital CMOS radio would cost an additional 35 cents and will basically do three major things: cut the cost of handsets drastically, reduce the power consumption hugely, and if all goes well basically make bluetooth, Wi-Fi and all future wireless PAN and LAN technologies fairly easy to incorporate into the handsets. TI plans to add GPS functions to it, and will make the chip available to handset makers, first mostly for GSM/GPRS networks only, according to Barron’s.

This is great news for consumers: imagine your cell phone with all these cool features, and still having enough power left to use the phone for a couple of weeks, even after explaining to your girlfriend, why you forgot all about Valentine’s Day. This is bad news for: companies that make radio chip sets like Infineon, Motorola, STMicroelectronics and Silicon Laboratories. It is also not so good news for companies that make wireless processors – Philips, Analog Devices, and Intel come to mind.

“Adapting digital CMOS for processing radio frequency signals has the potential to revolutionise wireless communications and Texas Instruments is ahead of the curve in making this technology part of our offering,” Bill Krenik, Advanced Architecture Manager, TI Wireless Terminals Business Unit said in a press release. “We believe customers will use this technology to reduce system cost, size and power consumption in dramatic ways.”