by Al Sacco

Broadcom “3G Phone on a Chip” to Bring Cheaper, Sleeker 3G Mobile Devices

Oct 16, 20073 mins
Data Center

I’ve reviewed various mobile devices for in past, and the majority of the smartphones I evaluated did not support third generation, or 3G, mobile networks. This is one of the first things I, or the CIO reviewers I worked along with, complained about

—though we weren’t always sure what exactly we’d do with the extra speed.

Recently, I worked with Hugh Scott, VP of IS for a business unit of Direct Energy, a retail energy provider, on a review of the uber popular Apple iPhone. Not surprisingly, when asked what three things he’d change about the device, 3G support topped the list.

Thanks to Irvine, Calif.-based chip maker Broadcom, my reviewers and I may soon have to come up with a new complaint. Broadcom on Monday released its “3G Phone on a Chip,” which the company says will enable device manufacturers to produce smaller, more powerful 3G devices for significantly less money than in the past.

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The company claims the chips will enable users to download content at speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps and upload content at 5.8 Mbps via their mobile devices—much faster than, say, AT&T’s 2.5G EDGE network, which offers average speeds of 75Kbps to 135Kbps.

The new high speed packet access (HSPA) processor, called the BCM21551 “Phone on a Chip,” squeezes a high speed uplink packet access (HSUPA) 3G baseband, a multi-band radio frequency transceiver, Bluetooth 2.1 with enhanced data rate (EDR) technology, and an FM radio receiver, as well as a FM transmitter, onto a single chip, according to Broadcom. It also includes advanced multimedia processing and can support digital cameras of up to 5 megapixels, as well as support the HSUPA, high speed downlink packet access (HSDPA), wide-band code division multiple access (WCDMA), and enhanced data rates for GSM evolution (EGDE) cellular protocols, Broadcom says. That means device makers will be able to use the chip in products meant for various cellular carriers, as well.

“Never before has anyone integrated as many radio devices on a single chip,” the company says. And Broadcom also claims the BCM21551 is at least a year ahead of similar product from its rivals.

This is great news for smartphone users—business folks and otherwise—because it means they’ll no longer have to shell out so much scratch for a 3G device. And that device won’t need to be charged twice a day. (Battery life is a common issue associated with 3G devices.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple decides to include the processor, or one like it, in the next generation iPhone, as well, because the main reasons that device doesn’t already support 3G are the effects such support could have on its price and its already iffy battery life.

Now, a few questions for you. How many of you smartphone users currently employ 3G devices? Is the extra speed really that valuable to you? If so, why?

I’m currently using a BlackBerry 8820, which runs on AT&T’s EDGE network. The device also supports Wi-Fi, which can be much faster, so data transfer speed isn’t currently an issue for me, especially when I’m in range of a hot spot.

(More information on Broadcom’s BCM21551 3G Phone on a Chip can be found on the company’s website.)