New chip can handle common 3G and 4G communications standards of Japan, China, and U.S.

The wireless communications hardware market is rapidly changing.  Later this year Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) will ship product with on-die LTE modems.  And Intel Corp. (INTC) recently unveiled an experimental version of its Atom CPU, which succeeded in the even more daunting task of packing analog components for an on-die Wi-Fi modem.

However, if you want a true 3G/4G "international" phone, optimized for all the different frequencies of different regional networks, you still need two more extra chip, in addition to your core system-on-a-chip (SoC).  For a small phone like the iPhone those extra chips can be a dealbreaker.

But a coalition of top Japanese chipmakers -- NTT DoCoMo, Inc. (TYO:9437), NEC Corporation (TYO:6701), Panasonic Corp. (TYO:6752) subsidiary Panasonic Mobile Communications Comp., Ltd., and Fujitsu Ltd. (TYO:6702) -- have come together to consolidate all those chips into a single chip [press release].

Fujitsu modem
The new multi-modem combines circuitry from multiple chips into a single die
for international phones. [Image Source: NTT DoCoMo]

The new chip combines hardware and digital processing software to make a single single large-scale integration (LSI) package.  It will likely be first seen in individual packaged chips, but could eventually be incorporated into licensees' SoC designs, as well.

The chip contains support for major alternative standards.  For example, where the U.S. use frequency dependent duplexing long-term evolution (4G LTE), the chip also support's China's slightly different time dependent duplexing LTE (4G TD-LTE).

The chip also packs HSPA+ (a common advanced 3G technology on networks in the U.S. and abroad), W-CDMA (a 3G technology in Japan), and GSM (the world's most used 3G standard).

The chip isn't perfect.  Noticably absent is support for WiMAX (an alternative 4G standard), TD-CDMA (China, 3G), and CDMA2000 (U.S., 3G) -- among others.  Still the new chip goes a long way towards consolidating the slew of chips in your average international phone, and guarantees that in most of the world's top makets (U.S., China, Japan, EU, etc.) that you'll have at least one or two compatible networks.

Looking ahead, while daunting interference and size challenges remain, it is very feasible that within the next five years expect the industry's top innovators to combine their analog and digital radio-processing equipment into a single on-die piece of silicon capable of handling virtually every Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, and beyond wireless communications standard.  Such a super-chip will revolutionize the industry -- and global communications -- when it arrives.  Until then, chips like this new multi-standards modem represent important baby steps towards that goal.

Source: NTT DoCoMo, et al.

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