Welcome to the Tuneable handset radio chip

Microchip start-up, Baolab http://www.baolab.com reckons it has found a way to reduce components costs and space in smartphones. Effectively it is offering two ways to reduce costs and save battery life: – tuneable radio chips and low cost sensors.

A bizarre side-effect of using Baolab’s technology could be that smartphones will be able to multi-task. The Apple iThingy can’t do that yet. The reason? Because multi-tasking would cripple the iThingy’s battery life.  Dave Doyle, Baolab Microsystems’ CEO, reckons the power savings made by using less components would enable the iThingy to multi-task.

Another scenario is that an iThingy Nano would become feasible. Reducing components takes less space on the handset motherboard and also reduces the power requirements. Smaller battery + smaller motherboard = Double-whammy.

Currently, one of the major headaches facing smartphone designers is the number of different radios a handset requires. A typical smartphone has Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi and FM – add GSM, GPRS and W-CDMA and you could end up with seven separate radios.

What Baolab has done is to create the opportunity for RF component suppliers to build an affordable tuneable radio. It should be affordable given that Baolab’s NanoEMS MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) devices can be fabricated using standard CMOS technology – so you get economies of scale.

Besides being used to building RF switches, the NanoEMS technology lends itself nicely to creating sensors using CMOS production. The two items which Doyle specifically mentioned are a compass and an accelerometer. Those components typically add at leas $1 to the components’ build cost and Doyle predicts that MEMs will make them much cheaper.

As a startup, Doyle isn’t targeting the Tier One, Two or even Three level handset manufacturers. Initial customers will be RF component manufacturers who themselves supply the handset world.

If Doyle is right, then capabilities such as GPS and accelerometers will filter down into featurephones and even entry level devices. Which will be great. A prototype exists and evaluation samples will become available in 2010.