IBM and RF to build diddy phones?

They have the technology, now it's up to the handheld manufacturers and mobile companies to knock up some brilliant kit...

A collaboration between computing giant IBM and silicon developer RF Micro Devices could result in a tinier, more powerful generation of mobile phones, the companies said yesterday.

The two firms plan to work together to develop radio frequency integrated circuits (RFICs) based on IBM's silicon germanium (SiGe) technology. The project is expected to reduce the number of chips required in upcoming wireless handsets which would simplify manufacturing resulting in smaller phones with a longer battery life than current designs.

Traditionally, GSM phones have been built using a combination of silicon for digital services, and gallium arsenide for the radio frequency analogue element. Gallium arsenide has problems integrating with standard silicon, and isn't a flexible mass production material.

Rupert Deighton, IBM Microelectronics' communications manager for Europe said that although it would be possible to make very tiny phones with silicon germanium, the more likely outcome of the new technology would be highly-integrated, multi-functional devices which incorporate GSM.

"Today, a GSM phone, on average, comprises around a hundred or two hundred individual components. By using germanium to dope silicon and produce tighter integration of digital and analogue jobs, we think we will see the average amount of chips over the next year or so get down to 10 or 20. By 2003, we will be able to put GSM on a single chip. It's a cliché, but you'll get more zip for your chip! Major manufacturers, household names in the wireless world will be able to integrate far more functionality into single devices as each system is significantly shrunk."

Deighton said that the technology for building handheld devices incorporating GSM phone, network access, web phone, PDA and even GPS will be available in the next couple of years.