Cheap Chips to lower comms costs

Cuts in the price wireless telephones, base stations and other communications infrastructure should be the result of the cheaper components now being offered by semiconductor manufacturers. As lower-cost telecommunications chips enable lower-cost equipment, service suppliers should be able to cut prices substantially - but will they?

Cuts in the price wireless telephones, base stations and other communications infrastructure should be the result of the cheaper components now being offered by semiconductor manufacturers

As lower-cost telecommunications chips enable lower-cost equipment, service suppliers should be able to cut prices substantially, says Bharat Gupte, vice president and general manager of the Standard Products business unit of Oki Semiconductor, in California.

But Gupte does not expect providers to pass on all the savings.

"They're obviously making more money," he says.

The latest semiconductors offer a lower cost-per-channel and higher quality for both voice and data, Gupte notes. Data integrity is more important because lower quality may be acceptable in a voice connection but may make a data transmission unusable, he says.

"Data becomes even more of an issue than voice," he says.

Users have to ask their providers about new equipment as it goes into service and ask about the possibility of lower prices, Gupte said.

"Being able to ask the right questions [is key]," Gupte says.

Oki and other semiconductor suppliers are working on devices to improve the telecommunications infrastructure. The existing infrastructure and its level of quality are a bottlenecks in communications, Gupte noted.

"It's like trying to drive a Lambourghini on a dirt road," Gupte says.

Gupte's company is offering enhanced echo cancellers and coder/decoder (codecs) for infrastructure and other applications, he says.

New additions to the EchoPath line of echo cancellers replace general-purpose digital signal processors (DSPs), which must be programmed for echo cancellation applications, Gupte explained. EchoPath devices, because they come from the factory tailored to the applications, cut design time, time-to-market and, therefore, cost to the equipment supplier. In turn, this cuts prices.

Oki has extended its DataPath line of codecs with single-, dual-, and quad-channel devices.

By implementing four channels in a single package, the Oki codec is capable of cutting the cost-per-channel substantially.

Oki isn't alone in providing advanced telecommunications semiconductors that will have a direct impact on service costs. Texas Instruments, for example, recently introduced a DSP chip that operates at 1 volt or less, compared with typical 3.3-volt DSPs, to consume one-fifteenth the power.

"Digital wireless phones and other mobile applications will feel the impact first, but eventually other powerful systems capable of multimedia and other communications tasks will be running on ultra-low-power DSPs," says Mike McMahan, director of research and development at TI's Wireless Communications business unit, in Dallas.

Cost Cutters

Latest telecommunications integrated circuits, such as echo cancellers and codecs, should cut service costs

Echo Cancellers

-- Simpler system design cuts costs

-- Lower power cuts operating costs

-- Applications: infrastructure, intercoms, hands-free mobile phones

Codecs(1)

-- Higher levels of integration cut costs

-- Applications: digital cellular, Personal Communications Services, wireless local loop, wireless PBX

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