IBM's new chip technology for mobile devices

IBM's new chip technology for mobile devices

IBM has developed new chip-making technology that in two years will lower the cost and reduce the size of mobile device electronics by allowing room for more functions in handhelds.

The technology could be deployed by mobile device component manufacturers and installed into phones and other wireless devices from a variety of manufacturers by 2009, said Ken Torino, director of foundry products at IBM, in an interview.

Overall, electronics in average mobile devices cost about US$20 to make, with the bigger costs taken up by other parts, including the display. Torino estimated the new chip technology will allow that cost to drop by about $1 per unit.

With some functions on separate chips integrated with the new technology, there would also be more room, eventually, for adding in other chips not normally present, such as a GPS chip, a TV tuner or a satellite radio, Torino said.

The technology that IBM has developed over the past year is called CMOS 7RF SOI, which is based on an older, less costly means of building a chip with silicon than the current process using gallium arsenide.

Initially, component makers will probably use the technology to integrate two or three chips into one related to power controllers, power management and multimode and multiband switching, Torino said. There are several chips in this area of a mobile device, and eventually all will be integrated.

The current gallium arsenide solution has been in use because the power management and related functions need to be physically close to a device's power source and radio antenna. "The challenge for us was to use more conventional silicon and still meet the specs" to make things work, he said. The components have to be small enough to avoid losing a radio signal or dropping a call.

Torino said many manufacturers joined in the development of the process, and IBM will make its design kits for manufacturers available in the first half of next year.

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