By Dan Jones The race is on to introduce smaller and cheaper Bluetooth chipsets so that short-wave radio interconnect technology can be incorporated into a wide variety of mass-market computing products over the next year. LM Ericsson Telefon AB, Lucent Technologies Inc, Intel Corp, Mitel Semiconductor Inc and Philsar Electronics Inc are all planning to […]
By Dan Jones
The race is on to introduce smaller and cheaper Bluetooth chipsets so that short-wave radio interconnect technology can be incorporated into a wide variety of mass-market computing products over the next year. LM Ericsson Telefon AB, Lucent Technologies Inc, Intel Corp, Mitel Semiconductor Inc and Philsar Electronics Inc are all planning to introduce Bluetooth chipsets next year and are working to reduce the number of chips used, which will lower silicon costs and power requirements. Ericsson is teaming up with Cambridge, UK-based ARM Holdings Plc to develop system on a chip components – albeit with a separate RF element – using ARM cores and the Ericsson Bluetooth core (EBC). Meanwhile, companies such as Cambridge Silicon Radio and TDK Systems UK Ltd are developing chips that incorporate the radio functions and baseband functions on a single die.
Ericsson, Nokia Oy and other backers of Bluetooth are positioning the technology as a cable replacement, to be used in everything in everything from wireless handhelds to remote keyboards. However, in a device such as a handheld computer, the price of the chipset, the silicon footprint and the power requirements are key issues. Working examples of Bluetooth chipsets are very scarce at the moment so performance data is thin on the ground. However, ARM, with its experience of designing chips for the embedded market, and Ericsson, the mobile phone manufacturer, are likely to be keeping a close eye on performance statistics. The ARM/Ericsson chipset consists of a baseband unit which incorporates the EBC and ARM cores along with a slew of memory and bus controllers and embedded static RAM (SRAM). The chipset also uses a separate RF element and Flash memory block. ARM & Ericsson intend to license the SOC design to companies building Bluetooth products.
However, even after chipsets are introduced, price is still likely to be an issue, Ericsson/ARM, Intel and Lucent have not yet given any cost indications of their products. However, Philstar says its chipsets will be introduced at $15 and CSR expects its chips to cost around $8. In a rudimentary comparison, 40ft of cable – the maximum range of Bluetooth – costs around $30, and Bluetooth wireless connections would naturally require a chipset at either end of the single point connection. CSR expects that its single die Bluetooth component will cost around $2 when it hits volume production. However, John Cornish, European marketing manager at ARM says: Sometimes integration is the right path, sometimes you can get a cheaper solution with separate Flash or RF. He also thinks that ARM’s intellectual property licensing model will help drive down the costs of Bluetooth chip production – taking the burden of fab production costs away from the designer and allowing customers to shop around for the cheapest foundry prices. The IP model really supports this becoming a truly mass market product, he said.