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TI: Holy Shrinking Chips, Batman!

Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) will this morning announce a long-term plan to morph its range of wireless chipsets into single pieces of silicon. The firm says the integration work will decrease the size of the chips its customers work with, cut product development times, and increase the battery life of next-generation mobile devices.

TI's integration work has already begun. Its BSR 1600 Bluetooth chipset has been slimmed down to fewer than 15 components and costs less than $4. Meanwhile, the firm has applied power management lessons learnt by its digital cellular team to its new 802.11b wireless LAN chipset (see TI Intros WLAN Processor) and is claiming this can lead to a 25 percent reduction in power requirements when using WLAN.

By 2004, the company hopes to be offering "a cell phone on a chip," as well as single chips to handle WLAN, Bluetooth, and location positioning tasks using GPS technology. However, even before that, Mike Yonker, chief technologist at TI's wireless computing products group, says mobile devices will be able to take advantage of the increased integration of TI chips.

"Even as early as next year you will see the first devices that start to integrate these technologies, maybe even some GPS," says Yonker. He expects the first integrated devices will be smartphones with Bluetooth (à la the Ericsson T68i) and PDAs with inbuilt WLAN capabilities.

However, Yonker sees markets for smaller, cheaper chips beyond the whiz-bang smartphone sector. He reckons digital cellular chips could also be an important catalyst in markets such as China and India, where vendors are always looking for ways to make inexpensive products.

However, TI is not the only semiconductor firm planning to offer a full array of wireless products. Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) (see Intel Plots Home-Grown 802.11) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) (see WLAN/WAN, Thank You Qualcomm?) are also planning single-chip implementations and deeper integration of wireless productions.

Analysts say Intel has yet to make a big impression on the wireless market. But Yonkers says TI cannot discount the semiconductor giant even if cannot yet rival his company's experience with RF. As for Qualcomm, he reckons TI's support of a broad range of cellular technologies may give it an edge over CDMA-oriented Qualcomm.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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