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Telecom enhances globalization in every possible way!


Is it any other way, apart from this? I was quite surprised on being asked whether telecom growth somehow blocked globalization! Quite the opposite!!

Take the Indian telecom industry for instance! Those who have followed the Indian telecom closely — right from the days of C-DoT developing 256-switch RAX, down to the introduction of mobile phones — after massive overbidding by folks such as HFCL in 1994, to the introduction of the Internet in India — on the eve of India’s independence day in 1994 — the growth of satellite communications in the country in the mid and late nineties — remember DAMA? — to the introduction of CDMA in the early 2000s, to the great proliferation of mobile phones that we now see around us!

Does any of this indicate anywhere that India has not been able to globalize, thanks to telecom?

When C-DoT had introduced RAX in the late 1980s, it really brought about a telecom revolution. Today, we don’t talk of C-DoT in the glowing terms that it really deserves. Who would have ever imagined that mobile phones would take off the way they have done now! And well, we just can’t survive without the email and the Internet!

Let’s trace the global telecom history from the late 1980s a bit more. When AMPS gave way to GSM, you had the feature called roaming! People wondered what they would do with this feature? Today, we complain, if we can’t roam!

ARIB, Japan, had visited India in early 1994, to try and sell PHS. In those days, PHS and DECT were the hot WiLL technologies. Later, Japan, thanks to Takeshi Natsuno and NTT DoCoMo, saw the advent of i-mode, and well, it indicated the first signs of what mobile Internet would really do!

Pages and pages were written, screaming, “WAP is CRAP”! Now, all phones are WAP enabled and no one says a word! We love to surf on the mobile phone now, isn’t it? What about all those MMS messages, including the sleazy ones? You can do mobile blogging now, can’t you? Also, update your Twitter!

In optical networking, in the early nineties, PDH gave way to SDH! We later saw the advent of DWDM and also VCSELs. With the advent of 3G in the late nineties, we discovered W-CDMA. China came up with TD-SCDMA, another 3G technology. For some time, LAS-CDMA tried to make its mark, then I don’t know what happened to it!

How many of you know that a simple SMS led to the famous second people power revolution in the Phillipines in early 2001, a peaceful revolution that overthrew Philippine President Joseph (Erap) Estrada!

Why, I still remember, during a spot survey at a Frost & Sullivan’s telecom conference in Singapore in 2001, I was one among the three who used the mobile phone to check my Yahoo mails. I received such stares! Today, we can’t stop talking about Blackberry and iPhone! In Hong Kong, in the early 2000s, I used my Siemens WAP phone to locate Indian restaurants! When Nokia added GPS via HS-CSD in Hong Kong’s Citybus in 2000, it was sensational! Today, we talk about LBS and GPS, and all that!

I can go on and on with such anecdotes! If there was no telecom, the world would not have progressed in the manner it has done now. Still having doubts?

Global semiconductor market for PMPs likely to decline at -9.1pc CAGR through 2013


The worldwide semiconductor market for portable media players (PMPs) is poised to drop significantly from $7.5 billion in 2008 to $4.6 billion in 2013, representing a negative compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -9%, according to a new forecast from IDC.

A mature market, the economic slowdown, growing similarity with mobile phones and mobile Internet devices (MIDs), and inevitable cannibalization all contribute to the shrinking semiconductor opportunity in PMPs. Additionally, PMPs will no longer be the largest market for NAND flash memory.

While revenue for most of the semiconductor components will decline in line with the total decline in PMP unit shipments, wireless connectivity semiconductors will exhibit modest growth, driven by the increase in attach rate for FM, WLAN, and Bluetooth radios.

“As PMPs have grown in capabilities, the dividing line has blurred between multimedia phones and MIDs,” said Ajit Deosthali, research manager for Short Range Wireless Semiconductors at IDC. “Moving forward, one should expect the semiconductor players to focus on the larger multimedia phones and growing opportunity in MIDs.”

IDC’s study, Worldwide Portable Media Player Semiconductor 2009–2013 Forecast provides an analysis of the worldwide semiconductor market for PMPs by device type, from 2009 to 2013.

The study also forecasts the semiconductor bill of materials for audio-only and video-capable PMPs, and the PMP NAND flash revenue and shipments by capacity.

Dexcel on growth drivers for Indian embedded design industry


It is my endeavor to write about semiconductors, solar/PV, EDA. FPGAs, embedded, etc., and related companies and solutions via this blog. One of the pleasures of writing a semicon blog is in being able to connect with and make a whole lot of friends from different countries, cultures, and companies, as well as bloggers.

One such gentleman is Ravinder Gujral or Ravi, as he’s popularly called, Director – Business Development, Dexcel Electronics Designs Pvt. Ltd. Dexcel, based very much in Bangalore, India, is among one of the emerging companies in the embedded space in the country. Ravi contacted me, like several others, via my blog! Likewise, I was elated to find myself a new friend and reader! Later, we met during Altera’s SOPC event, where Dexcel was exhibiting as well.

Dexcel is an electronics design house with capabilities in embedded systems development, firmware Designs and development, DSP processors based designs, imaging software, device drivers, Linux porting, system level designs and development, application and automation software, development of audio and video codec, telecom related stacks, board designs and FPGA based digital designs services, and providing end-to-end solutions to customers.

Dexcel has an alliance and partnership with Altera (ACAP and DSP partner), and with Analog Devices (DSP collaborator), Texas Instruments (DSP third party Network Member), Actel (solution partner), Atmel (AVR 8-Bit RISC Consultants), Montavista Linux developer, etc. Quite impressive!

Estimate of Indian embedded industry
Naturally, our discussion veered toward embedded. Providing his estimate of the embedded design industry in India, Gujral said as per the survey conducted by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA) and Frost & Sullivan, the projected Indian semiconductor and embedded design industry will grow from $3.25 billion in 2005 to $14.42 billion in 2010 and to $43.07 billion in 2015. The Indian design organizations are moving beyond simple labor-cost arbitrage to become true contributors to product innovation.

Going forward, it is important to keep an eye on the drivers for embedded design. The main growth drivers for embedded software in the coming period will be mobile communications, military applications, networking devices and providing more intelligence and connectivity to consumer devices.

Gujral said: “The explosion of embedded devices is made possible mainly due to the rapid growth of semiconductor chips each year, and semiconductor devices becoming faster, cheaper and less power hungry. As the Indian domestic market is growing rapidly, this growth trend will continue. Simultaneously, there are technical challenges to design such products and services, and the availability of technical qualified resources has become more important.”

Localizing product designs and manufacturing
Given that India’s strength has been in embedded, would the biggest growth factor for embedded come from the localization of product design and manufacturing from India?

Indeed, it is! Gujral noted: “The growth factor for embedded companies will come from localization of product design and manufacturing from India. However, we should be doing well in localization of product design, rather than in manufacturing. Indian design engineers are strong in product innovation and design processes, while on the other hand, our manufacturing ecosystem is not as competitive as China.”

Going forward, India should be focused on fine tuning its design processes and best practices to become more efficient and productive, compared to counterpart in the US and Europe. “We have to develop strong domain technical knowledge to bring more innovation in product development,” added Gujral.

2009 will not be 2001 repeat for global chip industry


The fact that the ongoing economic gloom has brought some doom for the global chip market is well known. H1-2008 held up well, better than most had predicted. However, now, the economic gloom in the global financial system has managed to nick the US, and Europe, and lately, Japan, into recessionary conditions, taking the global chip industry along with it!

Some fear that the recession will be as bad as 2001 and that 2009 could re-enact 2001! However, Future Horizons’ Malcolm Penn differs, and I’d agree with him. In 2001, there was this huge dotcom collapse, coupled with the unfortunate happenings of 9/11, and a ‘massive inventory burn just as a huge amount of excess capacity was coming on stream.’

What’s the situation now? There’s no serious overcapacity, and the pre-slowdown utilization rate were in the 90 percent region. Capex was already in retrenchment, well before the slowdown. Nor are there any serious excess inventory in the supply chain.

So, that only leaves the problem of the global financial gloom. Lot of money is being thrown about at the problem, hoping that it would pull the world out of the mess it currently finds itself in.

But, can the industry afford to NOT innovate? This is the time to innovate and find new ways to come out of the hole it finds itself in. The industry must also reconcile to single-digit growths mostly, from now on, I guess.

There has been no new ‘killer device of mass use’ like the mobile phone. Simply, no one has been able to come up with any new device of such mass appeal! The mobile phone, as we knew it, was only meant for voice. Now, it ports a camera, an MP3 player, Internet browsing, email, etc. It gave birth to PDAs, and probably, now, mobile Internet devices (MIDs).

It amuses me a lot when I find companies talking about providing full Internet experience on the mobile phone. It amuses me even further when I find a lot of people and companies talking about how they expect people to be on the Internet all the time! Surely, there are other things to do in one’s life than simply staying hooked to the Internet! Or maybe, they have a crystal ball to gaze in, all the time!

The industry needs to be careful about all the predictions and technologies. Not all will succeed. What they should try their hand at is at being innovative! Or, has innovation completely gone out of the window?

TI’s TPS62601 converter for telecom apps


This August, Texas Instruments India (TII) announced the industry’s smallest and thinnest 500-mA, step-down DC/DC converter solution, the TPS62601 converter, for space-constrained applications.

According to TI, It gives portable designers the ability to add more features and functions on a handheld device. The high-efficiency power management IC is the first 6-MHz, 500-mA converter to achieve a 13-mm2 solution size with an ultra-thin 0.6-mm total height.

I caught up with Ramprasad Ananthaswamy, Director, Power Management Products, Texas Instruments India, to find out a bit more about this so-called industry’s smallest and thinnest converter solution, and its essential design trends.

So what exactly is the TPS62601 power converter targeted toward? According to Ananthaswamy, the TPS62601, a high-efficiency power management IC is the first 6-MHz, 500-mA converter to achieve a 13mm2 solution size with an ultra-thin 0.6-mm total height.

The TPS62601 converter achieves up to 89-percent power efficiency and only 30-uA typical operating quiescent current, all from a 0.9×1.3mm chip scale package roughly the size of a flake of pepper. The synchronous, switch-mode device’s fixed frequency of 6 MHz allows the use of only one 0.47-uH inductor with a height of 0.6 m and two low-cost ceramic capacitors, without compromising performance and efficiency.

The device supports applications, such as memory modules, GPS modules, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modules or other wireless micro-modules used in ultra-thin smart phones, digital still cameras, portable disk drives and media players.

Applications areas of this device include: Smart and media phones; Cell phones; Media players; Mobile Internet devices; DSCs; and Other portable communications devices.

This chip will help powering sources such as: WLAN modules; WiFi modules; Bluetooth modules; Memory modules; and Generic micro modules.

Essential design trends
There is a need to understand the essential design trends of the TPS62601 that makes it unique. Ananthaswamy added that the TPS62601 can deliver DC voltage regulation accuracy of +/- 1.5 percent. In addition, its excellent load transient response, wide input voltage range of 2.3V to 5.5V and 1.8V of output allows the device to effectively support single-rail voltage requirements as designers add new features and functions.

The converter also applies energy-saving techniques to help maximize battery run-time. For example, the converter automatically enters a power save mode during light-load operating conditions via an automatic pulse frequency modulation and pulse width modulation switching feature. In shutdown mode, the device’s current consumption is reduced to less than 1 uA. 

Size and high-performance are important. The converter achieves up to 89-percent power efficiency and only 30-uA typical operating quiescent current, from a small chip scale package.

A high switching frequency of 6MHz reduces the size of the external components used around this chip, thereby reducing the total size of the power solution. A low quiescent current of 30 uA also makes it very attractive for portable applications requiring long run times.

Helping portable designers
Let us understand how the TPS62601 will actually enable the portable designers to add more features and functions on to a handheld device. Ananthaswamy says: “Portable system designers continue to desire more features on their devices, which require smaller, efficient DC/DC converters to maintain long battery life and system run-times. As the size of the total power solution is small, more PCB space becomes available for additional features that need to get added on to the cell phone. The TPS62601 gives portable designers access to the smallest, thinnest 500-mA DC/DC solution, which simplifies design and reduces board space and time-to-market.”

The converter also applies energy-saving techniques to help maximize battery run-time. For example, the converter automatically enters a power save mode during light-load operating conditions via an automatic pulse frequency modulation and pulse width modulation switching feature. In shutdown mode, the device’s current consumption is reduced to less than 1uA.

Power management
How well does the TPS62601 tackle power management issues? The biggest issue inside feature rich cell phones today is thermal management. This power converter, consuming only 30uA for its own operation, manages the thermal problem through efficient power conversion. “Better efficiency means less heat,” added Ramaswamy.

Energy-saving techniques
Elaborate on the energy-saving techniques that can help maximize battery run-time, he said: “Globally, switching regulators are efficient means of power conversion. This device is a buck derived switching regulator that efficiently converts the single cell Li-ion battery voltage to the one that is required by the various multimedia rich cell phone chips, like applications processors, GPS modules, digital multimedia broadcast chips, camera engines, WiFi etc.

“It can power all of these chips, while consuming as little as 30uA for its own operation. Depending on the input to output voltage ration, the conversion efficiency can also reach close to 90 percent. Less consumption, better conversion efficiencies, etc., all of these result in longer battery run times.”

Is it then safe to say that the maximizing battery run-time problem has been tackled with the TPS62601? Not exactly!!

According to Ramaswamy, the TPS62601 addresses part of the battery run-time issue. “With this initiative, TI has gone a step ahead in making the battery last longer,” he noted.

Making power converters efficient is only a part of the battery run-time issue. Along with making power converters efficient, one also has to look at how much power is consumed by the various chips that are used in a cell phone, the operating system that runs the cell phone and the overall power saving features that are built into the cell phone system. The speaker volume settings, backlight brightness settings and the duration of the backlight and some of the other user friendly settings have an effect on the battery run times.

Why compare, ape or even try to ‘kill’ iPhone?


The Apple iPhone and now, the iPhone 3G, has caught everyone’s imagination. You come across reports such as top alternatives to the iPhone. Or, about companies launching new mobile phones and those inadvertently getting compared to the Apple iPhone! Or even, reports of how newer mobile phones could ‘kill’ the iPhone!

Quite hilarious and nothing new here! It has happened quite a few times in the past!

Nothing will “kill” the Apple iPhone, and at least, not so fast! Nor is any iPhone killer anywhere close in sight!!

Public memory is indeed short!!

Quite a few years back, Apple launched the very colorful iMacs! All of a sudden, there was a slew of similar PCs with color or ‘color monitor covers’. Back then, Apple had rewritten the rules of the PC industry in some manner, besides re-invigorating the Apple brand itself.

Next came the iPod, and later, colorful iPods. It led to a surge in media players, MP3/MP4 players, etc., from other several players as well. Not to speak of the iPod giving birth to a whole new range of Mac accessories! The iPod continues to be in the news, and successfully so!

A similar thing has happened this time!

With the advent of the iPhone, and now iPhone 3G, we sometimes see reports of how the iPhone could influence the memory market! Or, how the impact of Apple’s iPhone 3G has been minimal on the chip market. Or, how it’s just one item in a very large and complex mix of products.

Or, how the Apple Safari works so very well on the iPhone. Or, how the Accelerometer allows viewing pictures in any way you wish. Or, how you can do wireless social networking! Or, how the mobile OS battle has heated up! Or, how the App Store has so many wonderful applications for the iPhone!

Has creativity gone out of the window?

My question is: Who has stopped the others from doing things differently? No one!

Public memory is indeed short! So many were quick to run down the Apple Newton, which was clearly ahead of its time. However, it led to the advent of a host of PDAs, though many may disagree with me on this thought, and so be it.

The first mistake that people commit are either comparing their products or the phone they buy with the iPhone! Why are you even comparing?

Apple has been very creative, so why is that so difficult to accept? Try and do better than Apple, if possible.

Perhaps, it would be better to concentrate on developing newer and better phones and other devices with even better features, rather than either comparing with or aping the iPhone, or even trying to beat it or ‘kill it’! Where’s the need?

Remember that Nokia phone model with changeable covers in 2000? Or, the Sony Ericssion T68? Likewise, each product is unique, has its deserved place in the sun, and also has its own shelf life.

The iPhone is a wonderful benchmark, for now. Do remember that the mobile phone design bar has constantly and consistently been raised.

Am sure, it would be no different this time!

No one told you that should NOT buy any other mobile phone. Did Apple ask you to buy the iPhone? It’s your choice! I don’t even have one!!

Alongside, we are also seeing a whole range of mobile phones, which are said to be good alternatives to the iPhone! Maybe they are.

Till then, Apple and iPhone deserve their place in the sun, make no mistake! Isn’t everyone trying to “ride” the iPhone wave anyway? That’s proof of life!

India announces 3G spectrum, MNP guidelines


Finally, the wait’s over! The Indian government today announced the guidelines for 3G (third-generation mobile communications) spectrum as well as mobile number portability (MNP).

First, all players — Indian and global — have been invited to bid for 3G spectrum, making it a truly level-playing field. The condition for a foreign player or telecom operator is that it should have some experience in running 3G telecom services.

Those interested to know more about the guidelines for auction and allottment of spectrum for 3G telecom services, can download the documents from DoT’s site.

Apparently, the 3G guidelines allow 10 players in the Indian 3G space, including both Indian and foreign players.

Spectrum in the 2.1GHz band would be available for the 3G telecom services through bidding/auction. Spectrum shall be auctioned in blocks of 2x5MHz in the 2.1GHz band. As per the DoT guidelines, the number of blocks to be auctioned may vary from five to 10, subject to the availability in different telecom service areas. Should there be non-availability, the number of blocks may be less than five in a telecom service area.

The MNP allows mobile phone users/subscribers to change their operators, while retaining their mobile phone numbers.

As per the DoT guidelines, a customer can approach a ‘recipient operator’ to port his or her number. The ‘donor operator’ cannot re-use that customer’s ported number till such time the ported number is in use. The donor operator can only have the ported number once it has been surrendered by the ported customer.

Well, both of these announcements are going to add to India’s brilliant telecom success story.

As for the foreign players coming into the country, quite a few are already present. It would be great to see the likes of NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, China Telecom, China Mobile, Telefonica, etc., enter the 3G space in India. As for 3G technology itself, TD-SCDMA, HSPA, etc., should be considered as well.

Oh yes, there’s some good news for those itching to use the Apple iPhone 3G. Once, the 3G networks are in place, there’s nothing that can stop this from happening.

On the MNP front, a good majority of Indian subscribers are on prepaid. So, there may be quite a few changeovers happening! It could well prove to be a nightmare for the operators, but then, that’s the fun of having a level-playing field and the challenge of playing in the booming Indian telecom market.

Postscrpt: A reader, Abhshek, left a very interesting and relevant comment regarding 3G services that users could be charged heftily. I quite agree with him! The 3G operators would need to price their services right. It should be win-win for both operators and users.

To start off, service charges could possibly be on the higher side, as the 3G licenses won’t come cheap, and operators would also look at the revenue angle. However, over time, service charges are quite likely to come down, if the pattern of the Indian telecom history is repeated. Many thanks for your comment, Abhishek.

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