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Communications Hardware

$20 Cellphones Possible with TI's New Chip 298

swimgeek writes "Texas Instrument's Indian branch has succeeded in developing a single chip which combines the functions usually performed by multiple chips in a GSM cellphone. By doing so, cellphone costs can be dramatically reduced, thus making cellphones more affordable in developing economies. Nokia has been contracted to make the initial sets, with market launch in as soon as 9 months. More coverage here and here."
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$20 Cellphones Possible with TI's New Chip

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  • Is It Just Me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Adrilla ( 830520 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:54AM (#13276378) Homepage
    Am I the only one who finds it ironic that this grand invention for Texas Instruments was done in India.
    • You are not alone, I audibly laughed upon reading that.

    • Am I the only one who finds it ironic that this grand invention for Texas Instruments was done in India.

      Well, that's logical.
      There are some good reasons why it's developed in India.
      Due to the fact that India doesn't have things like the DMCA.
      Second, almost all chip production nowadays is outside the US.
      • Re:Is It Just Me? (Score:3, Informative)

        by dhuff ( 42785 )
        Second, almost all chip production nowadays is outside the US.

        Not true for TI. Our largest Fabrication plants are right here in N. Texas, and we're building an even larger one [ti.com] right down the highway from me. Our largest design center is also in Dallas. (BTW, TI Bangalore is a design center - they don't mfg the chips there.)

    • Like everything in Texas, their salaries are too BIG...
  • Developing countries? Heck I'll take at $20 phone here in the good ol' US of A!
    • Hmm, you mean your phone companies doesn't already sponsor the phones, like in most of Europe - where we pay from $1 to $100 for the phones ?
      • Of course they do. A $150 phone is only like $30 if you get a plan with it.

        I expect that this means that the initial price of the phone will be $20. In other words, buying a whole phone without a plan could now be cheaper than buying a whole phone with a plan (and an 80% price reduction).

    • Nokia sells as many mobile phones each year as there are TVs sold. That's economies of scale for you...
  • Dupe... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:55AM (#13276384)
  • The article mentioned "India and other developing markets" but unless I move to Bangalore looking for work, am I going to see a cost reduction in my next phone? And if not, why not?
    • by grahamsz ( 150076 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:58AM (#13276399) Homepage Journal
      Phone costs will drop, but generally since they are subsidized by your contract you'll never know.

      Also it's worth noting that most of the world use 900 or 1800 mhz cellphones, whereas gsm phones in the US typically run on 1900 mhz - I doubt this chipset will be initially manufactered in US frequencies, although some latin american countries do use 1900.

      • Also it's worth noting that most of the world use 900 or 1800 mhz cellphones, whereas gsm phones in the US typically run on 1900 mhz - I doubt this chipset will be initially manufactered in US frequencies, although some latin american countries do use 1900.
        Actually, most phones are tri-band (or quad-band capable) now. Even the basic phones.
        • I think triband phones have two xtal osscillators, i'm not sure that you can do 1800 and 1900 with a single one - at least not easily.

          Even if you can, the silicon will be more complex to support more frequencies and i'd imagine this chipset cuts out all but the basic essentials.

    • am I going to see a cost reduction in my next phone?
      Probably not.

      And if not, why not?
      Well, just take a look at how the providers rip us off anyways. (I'm looking at charging for individual messages, charging for minutes, charging for roaming*, etc.)

      if your still in a network owned/operated by your provider, why the F do they charge you for going outside of a geographical area?

      • You should be able to talk your network into providing you with state of the art phones. When we got our 6600's they were going for over $400 on ebay, but we paid about $80 each for them.

        That means t-mobile took a $640 loss supplying us with those phones. Now they'll just make that back this year, but it seems like the only way to get value for money from a US network.

        In europe you can get lots of phone-less plans, so you are rewarded for being frugal and keeping a phone for a few years.
      • Hell, you want an example of rip offs, Cingular has knowing been refusing to fulfill their end of the AT&T contracts they bought.

        If you were an AT&T customers, and you've noticed drop outs, your phone not connecting to the network, lack of reception in areas that you used to get reception, you are being ripped off. Cingular modified their towers in such a way that many phones no longer perform correctly. Two seperate Cingular employees confirmed this.

        Their offered solution is to buy a new ph
    • "...am I going to see a cost reduction in my next phone? And if not, why not?"

      No. Supply & Demand.
  • I am so glad that somebody actually made an affordable practical computer for the developing world disguised as a cellphone. After all the simputers and half baked Linux web pads and other doomed "developing economy" platforms we might actually have a winner here. Of course there are a lot of middle and upper class people of all nations including India who will also benefit in that they are not gadget freaks and want a decent cheap cell phone.
  • What about (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Punboy ( 737239 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:57AM (#13276394) Homepage
    What about those of us who use a CDMA/TDMA only provider?
    • You should vote with your feet and move to a GSM provider. Don't let them lock you in.

      Do some CDMA providers also use GSM? If so, get your own GSM phone (and unlock it too presumably). I got a used Motorola V600 off eBay in the US and use it here in Canada, as well as the UK and US.
      • Re:What about (Score:3, Informative)

        by Mr2001 ( 90979 )
        You should vote with your feet and move to a GSM provider. Don't let them lock you in.

        But it's OK to be locked into GSM? ;)

        Seriously, CDMA is the most widely used mobile phone technology in North America. It's used by at least four major carriers I've heard of (Sprint, Verizon, Alltel, and Virgin Mobile), and probably a bunch of smaller ones I haven't. You can transfer phones between carriers in many cases - I'm not sure about the others, but Verizon doesn't lock the phones they sell or lock other carriers
        • Re:What about (Score:3, Interesting)

          You should vote with your feet and move to a GSM provider. Don't let them lock you in.

          But it's OK to be locked into GSM? ;)

          I think the GP meant locked into your handset. With a GSM phone it's easy to get a new handset: buy new phone, take out SIM card from old phone, insert it into new phone, that's it. Often even your addresses are stored in the SIM card, not in the handset.

          Do some CDMA providers also use GSM?

          Not that I know of. CDMA is a much more efficient use of their radio spectrum


  • by ReformedExCon ( 897248 ) <reformed.excon@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:57AM (#13276395)
    In dual-chip architectures, there are two chips: the (C)ommunications CPU and the (A)pplications CPU. C-CPU and A-CPU respectively. They typically communicate over a bus to pass data back and forth between the two chips, so there is a standard interface between the two.

    It is pretty straightforward to program for this type of setup because you don't have to worry about what the other chip is doing. It's over there doing its thing while my program is over here doing its thing. The two don't talk so often. Typically, you'll even have two separate operating systems running on the separate chips, that's how far apart they are.

    But what will it be like with only one chip, and presumably one memory block? Will the single OS running the chip have to handle all events and interrupts? How much more difficult will it be to write a multitasking phone operating system when such disparate things as mail applications and radio transmissions are handled on the same chip?

    I'd love for cell phone prices to come down a little bit. Hopefully this brings the prices down, but if software gets more expensive, it may be a wash.
    • by putko ( 753330 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:10AM (#13276448) Homepage Journal
      The new thing is to have a single DSP/processor that can run the OS and the signal processing apps. This allows getting rid of one chip, which is what they are so excited about.

      If you imagine that you took what was formerly on two chips and just put them on one, it should make sense that this is quite possible.

      You see the same thing with the x86/x87 combination in the Pentiums. Or microcontrollers that now have all the crap you need (except for reset circuit and serial drivers) on one chip.

      In the case of the DSP, programming it might be tricky, but so what: some geek does it once, and then you run that software on a million items: however painful it is, it gets amortized.

      If you are the processor company, you do it for your customers, so that they can get the silicon out there ASAP, and you get back all your NRE.

      • I've seen the presentations and am still apprehensive about the effort needed to adapt this.

        If it is just a matter of writing another application which can be activated when an interrupt occurs, then it sounds pretty straightforward. As you say, hand it off to the DSP subsystem which TI will provide and let the application run until the user presses X. But during that time, what happens to HW interrupts? Can the CPU handle interrupts (which are likely running at maximum priority) without significantly ha
      • by pchan- ( 118053 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @03:48AM (#13276747) Journal
        The article is not clear on this, so I can see where you would be confused. What you're talking about has been done years ago. The most common nokia phone chip is the TI OMAP, which couples an ARM 9 processor core with a TI 5000 series DSP core. This is already in your phone today.

        What the article is talking about is incorporating RAM, the RF circuitry, probably flash, and power management (usually done by an external microcontroller). That is, bringing all the other chips on the board into the die. Mind you, they are talking about a 20$ bill of materials (BOM) cost for the phone, this is NOT the price that you would pay. An OMAP sells for about 10-12USD in massive quantities. The price of this new part would probably be similar, but it would eliminate the need for many peripheral chips (thereby reducing the total board cost). What we're talking here is probably a reduction from 25 USD to 20 USD in the BOM. If they were sold through normal retail channels, expect to pay 2x to 4x the BOM cost.

        The CNET reported does not seem to be clued in on what this really means. This in no way means 20 dollar phones for anyone. It just means that phones are going to get just a little bit cheaper to manufacture, and that TI is going to take away some business from other part suppliers. Good news for TI, pretty much meaningless for everyone else.
        • Thanks for the analysis. That makes a lot of sense.

          This sounds even less like a great innovative leap -- it sounds like the run-of-the-mill innovation you get with more and more integration.

        • This in no way means 20 dollar phones for anyone.
          I only have the german Heise [heise.de] article, and that specifically states that the phone should be available in India for 1000 Rupees retail or about 18 EUR.

          Also, today TI demonstrated a prototype phone using the chip to make an actual call; back in January, they just announced the chip.

  • by HungWeiLo ( 250320 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:57AM (#13276396)
    A typical cell phone costs, what, $70-$100 and can do just about anything and has more processing power than most computers 10 years ago. If you strip out all the useless stuff out of a cell phone (you know, to make it, gasp, act just like a phone) I don't see how it can be that much of a challenge to bring it down to the $20 range.
    • it never was. this current announcement is just smoke and mirrors.

      phones have been incredibly cheap to make, cell phones doubly so because of the vast volume they deal in.

      it's all irrelevant because you'll never be able to buy a usable cell phone cheaply... because the hardware is tied to the service. the 20 dollar phone looks less cheap when you pay 20-40 bucks a month for service.

      honestly, the cell phone "service" looks a lot like inkjet ink. way out of proportion to what it actually costs and what they f
      • Here in the Netherlands I got a phone for like 20 dollars about 4 years ago. I got some free minutes with it.
        I still have it. I don't pay a monthly charge. Just pre-pay an amount of money (like 10 dollars) and I get a number of call minutes to use up. As long as I keep a positive balance others can call me without it costing a dime.
        In all that time I have put maybe 50 dollars worth of calling minutes into it.

        There is not even a time limit to use up the minutes, as long as you make at least one call a ye
    • A typical cell phone [...] has more processing power than most computers 10 years ago.

      Is that actually true? Are today's typical cell phones more powerful than, say, an i486 PC?

      (And if it is, I'd like someone to come out with a cell phone that has a couple of USB ports, a video-out port, a hard drive, and runs Linux, so I can throw away my desktop PC and just plug the phone in to my I/O peripherals whenever I want to do web/email/etc)

      • Is that actually true? Are today's typical cell phones more powerful than, say, an i486 PC?

        Well, my new Nokia 6680 has a 220 MHz ARM9-based CPU, 20MB of RAM and the option of up to a 512MB flash RAM storage gard. It has enough processing oomph to process images from the camera in real time in order to determine if you're tilting it (cute demo game thing I found). It can play Oggs, MP3s and some videos. It may not have video out, but I'd say, yeah, it's more powerful than most 486s.

    • And you pay obscene amounts for them in America. I live in Japan, where middle schoolers would not be caught dead with a $100 US cellphone. When I, having never owned a cellphone before, was presented with the bevy of options (video camera phone, regular camera phone, TV tuner, remote control, etc) I said "Give me the 'old granny' model, I don't want to deal with the complexity" (it came with a one mega-pixel camera -- "Sorry, sir, thats the dumbest we could find in stock"). My cell phone cost me $10, wh
    • Could you be any more arrogant? Just because your underinformed guesses and back of the envelope assumptions don't allow you to see the advance in this doesn't mean everybody doesn't. Why deny the creators a little right to bask in their accomplishment? Oh well.. forget it, actually. While they will rake in the money hand over fist from something that, well, THE MARKET considers important and novel, you will still be cobbling out php scripts at 38k per year.
  • "Free cellphone with paid membership." Seriously, I've been seeing them for years.
  • by a3217055 ( 768293 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:06AM (#13276435)
    Cellular phone calls have to go down in price. Regular land phones are cheap but not everyone on the planet has them, because land lines are expensive. Cheaper cell phones are great what about the price of the phone calls ? And don't believe that crap on digital divide, its called the RICH AND THE POOR divide been there for a long time just labelling it won't change it.
    • I know I'll probably get flamed for this, but yesterday I happened to drive by one of the biggest section of housing projects in the city where I live (and no, I wasn't out cruising for dope or hookers), and couldn't believe the number of mini-dish satellite TV antennas stuck on the porches and verandas. It was ridiculous: at least 50% of the apartments had them.

      And where a few years ago you'd see lots of people just standing out in front of the buildings or sitting on the steps, now they're almost all usin
  • Infineon was first (Score:3, Informative)

    by S.Gleissner ( 536865 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:10AM (#13276449) Homepage
    Well... last month infineon introduced a mobile phone for under $20.
    (link in german)
    http://www.heise.de/newsticker/result.xhtml?url=/n ewsticker/meldung/61656&words=Infineon%20Handy [heise.de]
    • That picture of the cleaned-up board is a complete fake though.

      The two silver chip labels are obviously fake, the batteries are just three gradients and they didn't even bother to finish the shadow of the wires connection the batteries. Not to mention the cut-off connections on the print and the rather hand-drawn looking connectors in the middle. And what are those small, unconnected components doing at the top? Even perspective is off on this picture.
  • ... the phone companies will continue to charge excessively for the service, and insist on providing over-priced phones with a tonne of other features that the users don't want.
    • ... they will no longer have "lack of technical advancement" as an excuse to have a happy, quiet society where people go from one place to another while communicating only with the people they actually see.

      /cancels migration to third-world nation
  • Big Deal (Score:2, Funny)

    by HeroreV ( 869368 )
    Let me know when service won't cost just as much.
  • a winner (Score:3, Informative)

    by romit_icarus ( 613431 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:21AM (#13276492) Journal
    If this pans out well, it's good news for India. For a simple reason: India's market size is very price sensitive and highly underleveraged. The Nokia 1110 - the 'MAde in India model' (http://www.nokia.co.in/nokia/0,,45346,00.html [nokia.co.in]) sells for around USD 60 and has around 25% of the GSM market. Also, since Indian call rates are one of the lowest in the world, ARPUs (avg rev per user) is low, so to the average consumer, the cost of the handset in proportion to her montly cellular oullay is small...
  • by GrpA ( 691294 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:24AM (#13276500)
    I know it's not the theme of the article, but it's just as obvious...

    One chip means smaller and lower power consumption possibilities as well. It goes hand in hand with cheaper.

    It will help lead to phones in watches as well as integration into other devices (eg, directly into mobile PC's as a standard chipset for GPRS integration. )

    Cheap is nice too, but it's just part of the overall advantage.

  • Interesting Story (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vectorian798 ( 792613 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:24AM (#13276501)
    When I went to India a few years ago to visit relatives, I was surprised to see that they were all toting cell phones (and better ones than my lame Noka 2260 at the time!) and when I asked about their plans I was surprised to know that they had plans with UNLIMITED minutes for very low prices.

    I am glad to see that we have innovation that will help connect the rest of the world, but I have to wonder, why the hell can't phones be made here at ultra-low costs? And what of the plans??!?! Everytime I want a deal on a cell phone I have to sign a contract (and these days you get the special deal only on 2 year contracts - read more at end of this post) and am locked into a shitty phone and a shitty plan. BTW if you have seen the list prices of phones (w/out service plan deal, you will notice how ridiculously pricey they are).

    Note about 2-year contracts:
    The exception I've seen (at amazon.com's cell phone site at least) regarding cell phone contracts is T-Mobile, which requires only a 1 year contract for all their deals. After hearing many horror stories about them I took a chance with them last year and was surprised to have absolutely no problems with reception or dropped calls or whatever here in CA (it seems like those problems were unique to an earlier range of phone models only). I once made a call to change the plan to a family plan and was also impressed by their AWESOME tech support, which doesn't go to some cheap call-center overseas like ATT.
    • So much for the free market economy.

      Here in Australia (population 18M) you can get Pre-paid (no contract) mobiles at very reasonable prices. My current phone has a colour screen & internet connectivity and cost me the princely sum of AUD 99 - including AUD 30 of calls.

      Oh, and the call cost is 20c connection plus
      The only downside is the fact that you have to pre-pay and the credit expires after 3 months (IIRC). Phones with plans are no cheaper than this to run and are often more costly as you end
      • >> Oh, and the call cost is 20c connection plus

        Less than one cent per second depending on how much credit you buy up front.

        Got "done" by the angle bracket thing...

        Also what my contention is is that you can and should be demanding better service from your mobile providers. Australia is HELL for a mobile phone company - huge distances with a low population density. There is absolutely no justification for an American service provider not to be competitive with the deal I've outlined above.
  • "thus making cellphones more affordable in developing economies"

    should read:

    "thus reducing the cost to manufacture cell phones"

    The term "affordable" is objective, not subjective.

    Theoretically, this should allow reduction in price in ALL markets.
  • So... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by greenhybrid ( 882786 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @03:00AM (#13276620)
    So they can make tiny cellphones that connect opposite ends of the earth for $20, yet a VHS-sized scientific calculator with a funky green screen costs $100? Hm...
    • They have an effective monopoly in the school and college market for calculators, at least in the USA. That's why they can continue to charge so much for their graphing calculators, and why they have invested little money in improving their products.

      There is a practical limit on how small you can make an advanced calculator and still have room for enough keys and a usable display.

  • I doubt this will reduce the cost of mobile phones, if anything it will just make the likes of Nokia and Samsung even more profit.

    in the UK, Mobiles are already stupidly expensive, so much so to get a top of the range phone you have to get it on a contract to cut 90% of the cost of it. Having a contract is like a loan these days... pay for your phone over 12 or 18 months.

    • in the UK, Mobiles are already stupidly expensive, so much so to get a top of the range phone you have to get it on a contract to cut 90% of the cost of it. Having a contract is like a loan these days... pay for your phone over 12 or 18 months.

      In the Netherlands we have a provider called t-mobile which has sim only contracts.
      These are half the price of a normal contract and don't include a phone.
      A 300 minutes a month contract is 17,50 for sim only and 35 a month for a normal contract.
      • In Finland allmost all the operators have dropped their prices very much. Currently I have sim only contract from Saunalahti, paying 17,90e month for 500 minutes to any phonenumber at any time. 1000 minutes costs 35,80e, perfect for small businesses.

        And for the poster before, the phones are comming more and more cheaper. Like in example I recently bought Siemens A65 with 79e. The price of connectivity is going down with fast pace, the only thing is that one has to make choices, ie. not getting that new No
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @03:42AM (#13276731)
    They are right about cheap phones being good for developing countries. Mobiles are used in totally different ways there then they are in the 1st world. They are also responsible for some of the fastest commercial growth ever seen in those countries. Here is one article from the Economist about it -- they have several. Since I don't know if you have to pay for this or not, I'm STEALING it myself since I did pay for it and giving it to you.

    Mobile phones and development: Less is more
    Jul 7th 2005
    From The Economist print edition

    Mobile phones can boost development in poor countries--if governments let them


    IMAGINE a magical device that could boost entrepreneurship and economic activity, provide an alternative to bad roads and unreliable postal services, widen farmers' access to markets, and allow swift and secure transfers of money. Now stop imagining: the device in question is the mobile phone. Not surprisingly, people in the developing world are clamouring for them, and subscriber growth is booming. The fastest growth rates are to be found in Africa, albeit from a low base. Already, 80% of the world's population lives within range of a mobile network; but only about 25% have a mobile phone.

    The primary obstacle to wider adoption is the cost of handsets. In the rich world, these typically cost around $200 (though most pay less than this thanks to subsidies from network operators), or less than 1% of the average income per person. In the developing world, in contrast, a $50 handset would account for 14% of the annual income of someone earning $1 a day. So the first step in promoting the adoption of mobile phones, say operators in developing countries, is to reduce the cost of the handsets. Several such schemes are under way: in particular, several operators in developing countries have joined together to aggregate their buying power, and Motorola, the world's second-largest handset-maker, has agreed to supply up to 6m handsets for less than $40 each (see article). There is already talk of prices falling below $30 next year.

    ndustry observers believe cheaper handsets could expand the market by as many as 150m new subscribers a year. As well as boosting economic development in poor countries, this will help to close the "digital divide" between the communications-rich and communications-poor. Governments, you would have thought, would be doing everything in their power to promote the spread of mobile phones.

    But rather than treating mobile phones as an important tool for development, many governments see them instead as an opportunity to impose hefty taxes and milk a fast-growing industry for all it is worth. In both Turkey and Bangladesh, for example, anyone buying a new mobile phone must pay a $15 connection tax. Many countries slap large import duties on handsets and impose special taxes on subscribers and operators. In many cases, these taxes double the cost of acquiring a mobile phone. As handset prices fall, such taxes will become an ever more prominent obstacle to wider adoption.

    Governments should reduce these taxes at once. Indeed, by doing so, they can both speed adoption and increase revenues. High import tariffs discourage legal imports of phones and encourage people to buy them on the black market instead. Reducing such tariffs would boost revenues as legal imports increased. Lower taxes on phone calls would encourage adoption and increase the tax base. It can be done: both Mauritius and India have recently reduced their taxes and tariffs.

    Mobile phones have created more entrepreneurs in Africa in the past five years than anything else, says the boss of one pan-African operator. Promoting their spread requires no aid payments or charity handouts: handset-makers, acting in their own interest, are ready to produce low-cost phones for what they now regard as a promising new market. Mobile operators across the developing world would love to sign up millions of new customers. But if developing countries are to realise the full social and economic benefits of mobile phones, governments must ensure that their policies help, rather than hinder, the wider adoption of this miraculous technology.
  • In the UK for example, there is about 90% market coverage so the phone companies are looking for new markets in Africa and China. For these you need a much cheaper phone.

    Then of course, if the chipset is only $30, your next laptop may have a cell phone builtin.
  • Two year contract technology has already brought cell phones down into the $0.00 to $0.99 price range.
  • Over here, commerce has solved the problem of the expensive cell phone by offering rebate deals or free phones with a contract for service. What good is a $20 cell phone if I can get a $150 cell phone for free with a 1-year contract with t-mobile or verizon or whoever?

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall