Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Emerging markets boost global SIM card sales

Global SIM card shipments grew 28 percent, with the total market available reaching 2.7 billion in 2007, up from 1.9 billion in the prior year. This is according to the perimeter note of SIMalliance, a global association of SIM card manufacturers.

The double-digit growth has, in part, been driven by the evolving role of the SIM card within its extensive ecosystem, made up of network operators, handset makers, technology vendors and providers of services, content and applications. Since the arrival of mobile broadband, new technologies such as smartphones, have outsold laptops by as many as two million in 2007, according to Symbian. In turn, this has brought new players to the mobile space, creating a pivotal new role for the SIM in addition to its existing role of securing identity across networks, said SIMalliance.

More sophisticated services are now demanded of the SIM, integrating tailor-made services, content and applications to suit the boundaries of wireless capabilities and interaction with the outside world. The migration towards 3G has continued to accelerate with 3G-enabled cards representing 14 percent of all SIMalliance shipments.

The move towards 3G has been a significant factor for sustained growth within saturated markets, (such as Western Europe, with growth of 18 percent). However the biggest drive came from emerging markets where shipments have increased, including India, Greater China, Middle East and Africa, and Latin America. Below are the figures:

• India - from 123 million in 2006 to 194 million in 2007, a growth of 58 percent
• Greater China - from 332 million in 2006 to 427 million in 2007 , a growth of 29 percent
• Middle East and Africa - from 260 million in 2006 to 366 million in 2007, a growth of 41 percent
• Latin America - from 159 million in 2006 to 228 million in 2007, a growth of 43 percent

The prosperous market conditions have also been stimulated by the increase in the average memory size of the SIM by up to 12 percent. In 2007, the average memory size was 53Kbyte compared to 47Kbyte in the previous year, but this has not been limited to areas where the market is already established, said SIMalliance. In Latin America, where shipments grew 43 percent, average memory size is 76Kbyte—higher than Western Europe and second only to Japan and Korea.

"These statistics reaffirm the role of the SIM card within the market," says Michel Canitrot, chairman of SIMalliance. "The significant technological advances that we see in the market, such as the impact of smartphones, are all dependent on the SIM's capabilities. We believe that the SIM Industry, in light of the prosperous market environment, can open the SIM to other players within our ecosystem and accelerate the adoption of these advances to the benefit of all operators."

SIMalliance is optimistic about the market. For 2008, the industry alliance forecast that over 3 billion mark for SIM cards will be shipped.

Market researchers report on Q1 08 cellphone shipments

Shipments of mobile phones increased by about 14 percent in Q1 08 year-on-year, according to market research groups Strategy Analytics and IDC, but both note that this represents a decrease from the previous quarter.

Q1 performance
According to Strategy Analytics Inc., 282 million cellphones were shipped worldwide in Q1 08, up a healthy 14 percent year-on-year. Demand remained strong in emerging markets, particularly Africa and Asia.

Korean vendors LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics were said to be the star performers, growing two to four times faster than the industry average. Nokia Corp. maintained a commanding 41 percent share, but weakness in North America and in smartphones is causing concern.

Motorola Inc. slumped and is in real danger of being overtaken by LG. Sony Ericsson's growth came to a grinding halt, due to sub-brand fatigue. And Apple Inc. saw its global handset market share slip to 0.6 percent.

Meanwhile IDC suggests 291 million phones were shipped in Q1 08, up 14.3 percent on the same period last year but down 11.6 percent from the 255 million shipped in Q1 08.

Both groups agree about the top five vendors, with only minor differences in market shares or year-on-year growth.

Q2 forecast
Strategy Analytics forecasts 280 million units will be shipped in the second quarter, up 12 percent on Q2 07, and suggests moderate inventory-build in North America and slower seasonality in Asia would drive a slightly slower growth rate than the previous quarter.

IDC did not provide a forecast but said "concerns over the economy may negatively impact handset purchases as the year progresses."

According to Strategy Analytics, Nokia registered a 41 percent global share for the second consecutive quarter in Q1 08, shipping 115.5 million phones. Samsung had a 16.4 percent share, Motorola 9.7 percent, LG 8.6 percent and Sony Ericsson 7.9 percent.

Motorola's showing meager
IDC notes that year-on-year, Nokia increased shipments by 26.8 percent, Samsung by 33 percent, LG Electronics by 54.4 percent and Sony Ericsson by 2.3 percent. Motorola saw a 39.7 decrease in the number of phones it shipped between Q1 08 and Q1 07.

Strategy Analytics estimated that Nokia's global market share in the smartphones sector dropped from 50 percent in Q1 07 to 44 percent in Q1 08. Rivals such as Research in Motion Ltd (RIM) and Samsung are said to be turning up the competitive heat, while some new Nseries and Eseries models have seen lackluster demand.

It said Motorola's slump means it is "in real danger of being overtaken by LG in the second quarter. Its decline in shipments during Q1 08, particularly in North America, has been accelerating, not slowing.

Strategy Analytics laments Motorola's 10 percent global market share is "at the lowest level since our records began," and adds an operating loss in the handset division of minus 12 percent is the largest recorded by the company since Q1 01.

Motorola's unexciting handset portfolio across all tiers remains the core problem "and any signs of it being fixed in the near-term appear slim."

Sony Ericsson's upward run has come to a grinding halt, the market research group added. Annual shipment growth has plunged from 64 percent to 2 percent in just twelve months.

LG star rising
Strategy Analytics said LG was the star performer during Q1 08. It sold 24 million units worldwide and grew almost four times faster than the industry average. LG has overtaken Sony Ericsson and it stands a good chance of catching Motorola in 3rd position.

Below the top 5 megavendors, Apple showed signs of weakness. Following three consecutive quarters of growth, its global market share fell by a tenth of a percentage point for the first time, from 0.7 percent in Q4 07.

Strategy Analytics estimates Apple shipped 1.7 million iPhones worldwide in Q1 08, down sharply from 2.3 million in Q4 07. "We believe stock-outs in North America and sluggish demand in Western Europe due to high pricing have been the main causes behind Apple's weakness. The upcoming launch of the 3G iPhone in June 2008 is sorely needed and Apple must not repeat the mistake of overpricing its new, second-generation device."

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

Monday, April 28, 2008

AMD mulls next move

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. CEO Hector Ruiz disclosed the company will consider exiting its non-core businesses if they do not show clear signs they "are on a healthy path to leadership and profitability.

The move is part of the steps being taken by the company to restore its operations to profitability. AMD has previously said it will cut 10 percent of its workforce and is now considering a wider range of reorganization options that could result in deeper cuts and possible business unit disposal.

"We are embarking on a significant restructuring of our company," Ruiz said during a conference call with analysts on Apr. 17. "We need to intensely scrutinize our non-core businesses and revisit their strategic fit into our plans and their path to growth and profitability. Absent these, we will exit those businesses."

Asset-smart move
As with a previous plan announced by the company one year ago to adopt what AMD has described as asset-smart manufacturing, Ruiz declined to provide details of the changing strategic focus, promising instead to address the issue soon.

"We have made significant progress in our asset-smart strategy and I am very hopeful that we will be able to communicate details of this rather complex effort in the near future," Ruiz said during a conference call on the company's first quarter results.

"At that time, we believe we will also have an opportunity to further restructure the company for increased focus and added flexibility while placing us in a better position to deliver sustainable, profitable growth," Ruiz said.

MPU, graphics focus
AMD has three operating units, including computing solutions, graphics and consumer electronics. The computing division accounted for almost 80 percent of the company's Q1 revenue and recorded an operating loss of $160 million.

The graphics segment reported revenue of $230 million for Q1 and operating loss of $11 million, while the consumer electronics division recorded $81 million in revenue and posted operating loss of $8 million.

Since AMD considers microprocessors and graphics IC core businesses, it can be assumed the company plans to keep the two while dumping any other units. It's also possible the company could trim product portfolio even within the MPU and graphics semiconductor units.

Even if AMD exits the consumer electronics business, this would not be enough to restore the company to profitability.

The troubled semiconductor company is struggling in its battle with rival Intel Corp. for market share in the microprocessor sector. Its latest quarterly results were "characterized by poor top line performance," according to AMD chief financial officer Robert Rivet.

The company's Q1 net loss narrowed to $358 million, or 59 cents per share, from $611 million, or $1.11 per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Revenue rose 22 percent during the same period to $1.5 billion, from $1.23 billion in the first quarter of 2007 but dropped a wider than expected 15 percent from the December 2007 quarter.

- Bolaji Ojo
EE Times

Report: GPS sector to become $1B market in 2012

GPS unit sales will hit $1 billion in 2012, according to the 2008 Semiconductor Applications Report from Future Horizons. Between 2007 and 2012, GPS unit sales will grow from 286 million to 938 million annually with a CAGR of 26.8 percent (Table 1).

The public first became aware of GPS after the arrival of factory-fitted automotive dashboard-mounted equipment and then after purchasing lower-priced personal navigation devices.

GPS techniques have now been utilized in other applications such as tracking hired vehicles and locating mobile phones in emergency calls. Upcoming applications, according to the report, will be other mobile phone GPS applications such as local traffic and location information services.

Current GPS apps in mobile phone handsets, which all require very low-power chipsets, include the geo-tagging of images in digital cameras, GPS in MP3 players and on watches.

Future Horizons is optimistic that unit sales for GPS will continue to rise, however, chipset revenue will peak during this period as ASPs fall. Eventually, some GPS circuits will become part of more complex radio accessory chips that will include Bluetooth, NFC and Wi-Fi.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Microsoft: PC bows out as Web era dawns

At the launch of its Live Mesh broad software, services and development platform that aims to use the Web as a vehicle to synchronize and share data and content among devices and people, Microsoft Corp. has finally admitted that the PC is no longer the central element of everyone's computing experience.

"The PC era has given way to an era in which the Web is at the center of our experiences," Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief software architect, wrote in a memo to the company that Microsoft released last week. "It is our mission in this new era to create compelling, seamless experiences that combine the power of the Internet, with the magic of software, across a world of devices."

Live Mesh, which for now is only available to a limited number of testers, appears to be one of the major parts of this mission. The platform will allow people to easily and automatically synchronize content and data on one PC or device with the Web and any other PC or device, share content and data with other people and remotely access Internet-connected devices with a combination of client software and Web services. It will also allow developers to create offline capabilities and out-of-browser experiences for Web apps, online extensions to offline apps, and synchronization capabilities for both. But Live Mesh is only one piece of Microsoft's admission.

Web focus
In his memo, Ozzie notes that Microsoft is making significant adjustments to the way it does business to take advantage of the shift toward the Web. "More than two years ago when I wrote the memo entitled The Internet Services Disruption, much of the company was still focused on bringing our Office 2007 and Vista products to market," Ozzie writes. "It was truly 'software', not 'services', that was top of mind."

Microsoft had long had functionality that mixed software and services in offerings like Exchange and Outlook, which have both client and Web experiences, and Office, which polls Office Online for help and custom templates. However, only recently has the company begun to create full Web and service-based experiences for some of its applications available, such as SharePoint Online and CRM Online.

Microsoft has also lagged a bit in adding online collaboration capabilities to applications like Office, which are for now limited there to Office Live and Office Live Workspaces. The company has also fallen far behind Google in Web ads and search, which is one of the main reasons Microsoft recently bid billions in an attempt to acquire Yahoo.

Ozzie's memo doesn't serve as any sort of mea culpa from Microsoft, but instead lays out the company's grand vision for its role on the Web linking information across multiple devices, enabling collaboration, giving businesses and consumers choice about how they want to deploy their applications and providing development tools.

- J. Nicholas Hoover

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Shenzhen Airlines to offer in-flight GSM phone service

Shenzhen Airlines says that it will start running in-flight phoning service on some of its airplanes using OnAir's on board communication services, before the Beijing Olympic Games begin in August.

Li Kun, president of Shenzhen Airlines, says that the company has selected three airplanes to install the GSM mobile communications equipment, satellite communications components and antenna provided by OnAir to support the mobile phone in-flight calling service. Ki says that the company plans to make mobile phone calls possible on all of the company's flights before the end of 2009.

Airplane-safe technology
In consideration of safety, mobile phone calling in China has been banned in-flight since 1991 because mobile phone signals might affect a plane's navigation. However, mobile phone calling service to be provided by Shenzhen Airlines will apparently have no effect on the planes because the signals are not connected with the ground network.

The passenger's device connects to the OnAir system via a mini base-station on the aircraft, based around a picocell, which picks up signals from PDAs and phones and sends them to a satellite. From there, they go to OnAir's ground network, then out to the public network. The OnAir technology will allow up to 12 simultaneous calls per picocell, as well as unlimited SMS text messages and emails. If required, further picocells can be added, increasing the number of simultaneous calls. Passengers also will be able to turn on their mobile phones and GPRS devices and use them as if they were on the ground.

OnAir was formed in 2005 to develop and operate inflight passenger communications services. It is owned by air transport IT solutions and communications services provider SITA and aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

Nokia, Sony BMG weave music partnership

Sony BMG Music Entertainment has officially joined the Nokia Comes With Music, a service that offers consumers unlimited music downloads for a year using their Nokia device.

Consumers who buy a Nokia Comes With Music device will have a year of access to the rich music catalog of Sony BMG. They will be able to download tracks to both their mobile device and PC through the Nokia Music Store during the first 12 months that they own their Nokia device.

At the end of the one-year period, they can keep their downloaded tracks, and should they purchase a new compatible device or computer, they can transfer the downloaded materials by substituting their new device or computer for the original devices. As a result, music fans who participate in the Comes With Music experience will be able to keep their downloads on their device and/or computer for the rest of their lives.

Consumers will have a number of options for continuing to get new music after the Nokia Comes With Music subscription is over. They will be able to continue to purchase additional tracks from the Nokia Music Store, or move on to a Nokia "unlimited access" subscription service to enjoy new releases and catalog tracks not downloaded during the initial year.

"As one of the leading major music companies in the world, our collaboration with Sony BMG means we can offer a huge range of fantastic music from both international and local artists via Comes With Music," said Tero Ojanpera, executive VP and head of the Nokia entertainment and communities business. "Nokia Comes With Music is an innovation that not only helps people discover and enjoy music, but also expand the overall business and revenue for the benefit of artists, labels and other rights holders."

"This initiative represents a critical new way of gaining access to music, through which fans will be able to explore Sony BMG's vast catalog of recordings for an entire year," commented Thomas Hesse, president, global digital business and U.S. sales, Sony BMG. "We think this business model will encourage users to sample a wide range of material, expand their musical tastes, and listen to more music than ever before. In the process, we think it will provide new opportunities to artists from every genre of music, and increase demand for music overall."

Comes With Music is expected to launch in the 2H 08 on a range of Nokia devices in selected markets.

Report: India design market hit $6B in 2007

A study by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA) reported that India's design services market grew to $6 billion in 2007, up from $4.6 billion in the previous year. The design sector is expected to grow by over 21 percent during the next three years on a compounded annual growth basis to $10.96 billion, the report said.

In 2007, VLSI design services, employing 13,900 workers, accounted for $766 million of India's total design services, while hardware and board design services employing 9,400 workers accounted for $386 million. Embedded software services, employing 106,000 staffers, constituted the lion's share with $4.9 billion.

Much of India's design work is performed by both Indian companies and their overseas partners with offices in the country. Most of the design work focuses 90- and 65nm process technologies, with a few 45nm design projects, according to market researcher International Data Corp.

Exports accounted for most of India's design services revenues, but higher electronics consumption and localization of product design and manufacturing are expected to account for an increasing share of design revenues in India, said Kapil Dev Singh, country manager for IDC (India) Ltd.

"The next phase of growth will be different," Singh said. "While the current business will continue to grow, the design services industry will get closer to the markets and develop more IP in order to go up the value chain."

Concern over the faltering U.S. economy and a possible slowdown in design projects will put pressure on Indian man-month wage rates. Current engineering man-month rates here are $4,562 for VLSI, $3,854 for embedded software and $3,415 for hardware and board design.

ISA chairman S. Janakiraman said the total Indian design workforce has reached 130,000, and is expected to nearly double over the next three years.

The U.S. accounts for the majority of India's design services and other software exports with about 70 percent. Europe accounted for the rest, while Asian electronics manufacturers from Taiwan and Japan hardly registered in the ISA design survey.

- K.C. Krishnadas
EE Times

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Intel earmarks $500M for WiMAX deployment in Taiwan

Intel Corp. will invest $500 million in Taiwan over the next five years, with the bulk of the investment targeted for WiMAX, according to Yahoo! India.

The chip giant said there are still technical challenges that need to be solved for the high-speed wireless standard, but that it has been encouraged by the development of WiMAX in the past two years.

Managing director for Intel's WiMAX program Li Mohan confirmed that the investment is largely for WiMAX. Mohan said the company expects WiMAX to be commercially deployed by Q2 or Q3 in the United States and infrastructure in Asia should be ready by 2009-2010.

In October 2007 the Taiwan government announced plans to spend $664 million in the next few years on the WiMAX development. Mohan estimates that Japan may be the first to launch the service, having invested lots of money for the technology, while Taiwan and India could follow suit.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Facebook asks users to translate new versions for free

Associated Press Writer

TOKYO (AP) -- The three-year-old social networking phenomenon Facebook, worth more than $15 billion by many estimates, got a good deal on going global.

Its users around the world are translating Facebook's visible framework into nearly two dozen languages - for free - aiding the company's aggressive expansion to better serve the 60 percent of its 69 million users who live outside the United States.

The company says it's using the wisdom of crowds to produce versions of site guidelines - especially terms specific to Facebook - that are in tune with local cultures.

"We thought it'd be cool," said Javier Olivan, international manager at Facebook, based in Palo Alto, Calif. "Our goal would be to hopefully have one day everybody on the planet on Facebook."

Coolness aside, and many users are embracing the idea, other social networks aren't "crowdsourcing" translation. The move is generating mounting criticism online, where some users question whether amateurs can produce good translations. Critics complain of sloppiness and skimping, even as Facebook says it is improving service in an innovative way.

The concept of collaborative translation is familiar in open-source programming communities. But Facebook's effort - as it builds sites in Japanese, Turkish, Chinese, Portuguese, Swedish and Dutch to join versions in Spanish, French and German that launched this year - is among the highest-profile attempts to harness users' energy to do work traditionally handled by professionals.

The Spanish-language version has taken a particular beating for grammatical, spelling and usage problems throughout.

Ana B. Torres, a 25-year-old professional translator in Madrid, Spain, called the translation "extremely poor," citing "outrageous spelling mistakes" such as "ase" instead of "hace" (for "makes" or "does") and usage of the word "lenguaje" for "language" rather than the correct "idioma."

Other critics say Facebook just wants free labor.

Valentin Macias, 29, a Californian who teaches English in Seoul, South Korea, has volunteered in the past to translate for the nonprofit Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia but said he won't do it for Facebook.

"(Wikipedia is) an altruistic, charitable, information-sharing, donation-supported cause," Macias told The Associated Press in a Facebook message. "Facebook is not. Therefore, people should not be tricked into donating their time and energy to a multimillion-dollar company so that the company can make millions more - at least not without some type of compensation."

Facebook points out that it has spent considerable resources building the translation program. Olivan said it's not soaking users but including them in the growth of the network - and possibly attracting new ones.

"If the goal is to save money, we're doing the wrong thing, because we are basically spending our most valuable asset, which is engineering time," he said.

He said that Facebook relishes being different from competitors and that users are helping the company produce versions in numerous languages as quickly as possible.

Just one-fifth of the world's Internet population actively manages profiles on a social network, said David Jones, vice president of global marketing for Friendster Inc., which has recently shifted its focus to capitalize on its strength in Southeast Asia.

"It's still a bit of a land grab," he said. "So there's plenty of growth to be had in the world, and we're focused on that, and certainly other social networks I'm sure are as well."

Friendster recently launched a beta version in Vietnamese, adding to its lineup of versions in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian. It plans to keep introducing a new language every month or two.

Setting the pace, however, is industry leader MySpace. The News Corp. subsidiary has 200 million registered users worldwide and 29 country-specific and regional sites and more on the way.

Its global push, which began in early 2006, appears to be paying off. Between June 2006 and June 2007, its number visitors worldwide age 15 and older jumped 72 percent to 114.1 million, according to Internet research firm comScore Inc.

In the same period, however, Facebook's global traffic surged 270 percent to 52.2 million users, according to comScore - even though it had yet to launch its first foreign-language site.

As it enters each market, MySpace hires a dedicated team, said Travis Katz, international managing director. Contractors perform the initial translation, which the local MySpace team tweaks to ensure it fits the market, he said.

"The translation in and of itself is not very expensive," Katz said. "The thing that's challenging is getting the cultural aspects right and making sure that the site is culturally relevant and doesn't feel like an invader from Silicon Valley landed."

Friendster's Jones said his company also uses third-party translators.

"As interesting as it might be to get your users to chip in and help out on that, we could do it faster ourselves and very consistently, quite frankly, across the language, across the entire site," Jones said.

More than 100,000 users have installed Facebook's translation application. Nearly 10,000 helped translate the French, Spanish and German sites - the Spanish version in less than four weeks and the German one in two weeks.

The process involves translating a glossary of basic Facebook terms, translating text strings throughout the site, voting on each translation and then "testing and verification."

Some users, like Murat Odabasi of London, are spending hours each day translating Facebook. Responsible for 14,910 winning words and 1,938 winning phrases, Odabasi held the No. 2 spot among 391 translators on the Turkish leaderboard as of Wednesday.

Odabasi, 24, a software developer and native Turkish speaker, said the volunteer arrangement is good for users as well as Facebook.

"We come up with the words and phrases that will ... eventually become a part of the Turkish language itself," he said in an e-mail in English. "It feels good to be creating something that will in time be seen and used by millions of people."

Collaborative translation is an increasingly important tool for businesses, said Renato Beninatto with the Massachusetts consulting firm Common Sense Advisory. But he said companies may need professional services to finalize translations.

"The traditional wisdom is that if you have fewer translators, you generate a better product," said Beninatto, also a spokesman for the Globalization & Localization Association.

If managed well, however, crowdsourcing can result in a good translation, he said.

Among the hottest debates so far has been over "poke" - Facebook's term for giving someone a playful nudge. In Spanish, it became "dar un toque." In French, "faire un signe." And in German, "anstupsen."

Japanese translators couldn't find an equivalent so they decided to go with the original English.

PayPal considers blocking browsers

Posted by Robert Vamosi

PayPal is seriously considering blocking some browsers from accessing its site, according to a paper (PDF) available to shareholders.

Titled "A Practical Approach to Managing Phishing," the paper admits that there's no one silver bullet to prevent fraudsters from making money on the Internet. However, authors Michael Barrett, PayPal's chief information security officer, and Dan Levy, the company's senior director of risk management for Europe, say companies could and should start addressing five specific areas:

1. Prevent fraudulent e-mail from getting into users' in-boxes

2. Prevent phishing sites by shutting them down

3. Authenticate users so that stolen credentials can't be used on PayPal

4. Prosecute fraudsters to the full extent of the law

5. Focus on brand and consumer recovery

Of these, the paper focuses mainly on e-mail prevention and phishing-site blocking. For e-mail prevention, the authors cite Yahoo Mail as an example and point to its use of domain keys to identify legitimate and illegitimate mail marked as coming from PayPal.

Most controversial is the idea of blocking "unsafe" browsers, or browsers that do not currently include antiphishing tools. PayPal says it would first notify users when they log in if they are using an unsafe browser. Later, PayPal would simply block the use of the browser entirely.

PayPal is interested in enforcing new Extended Verification SSL certificates used by Internet Explorer 7 and the upcoming Mozilla Firefox 3. EV SSL highlights the address bar in green when the site has been certified. Other browsers, such as Apple Safari and Opera, do not currently include these protections.

Browsers not on the desktop could also be barred. On Monday, researchers cited the Apple Safari browser on the iPhone and Nintendo's use of the Opera on its DS and Wii gaming systems as lacking adequate antiphishing protection.

Music Web site Buzznet expands online portfolio

By Antony Bruno

DENVER (Billboard) - Not content to let MySpace, iLike and Facebook take all the online music thunder, Buzznet is roaring into the Music 2.0 market with a vengeance.

In the last few weeks the company has acquired music-focused blogs Stereogum and Idolator, and brought on Universal Music Group as a content partner and equity holder. Additional moves are expected in the weeks to come.

According to GM of music Scott Boyd, this flurry of activity is all focused on a single goal: create an online music destination for the fan, by the fan and of the fan.

"There's a void out there," he says. "You see music fans jumping from site to site to piece all the information they want together . . . Our goal is to put that all together into one place and have an experience that is largely programmed by the users of the community. Not just user-generated content, but really creating the whole experience."

That goal stems from the service's roots as a site to upload camera-phone pictures. Users would post and comment on photos that were from concerts that members attended. Buzznet soon evolved into a very music-focused site and began enlisting artists to create their own profiles and tour blogs. For the past three years, it has served as the official online community for the Coachella music festival and has created similar services for the Vans Warped tour.

Just don't call it a social network. The company prefers "social media site." It combines social networking components like member profiles and "friend" lists with a growing roster of content that members can organize however they like.

Boyd says the newly acquired blogs will remain as stand-alone entities, but will integrate posts from each into the main Buzznet site in order to provide context around individual artist searches and profiles.

"So if you're looking into a particular band, there's a review from Stereogum and a news story from Idolator and there's a photo gallery created by a kid who was at the concert last night," Boyd says. "We can add value by bringing that content into our bigger community and spreading it around."

Buzznet's deal with Universal Music adds full-song streaming and music video to that mix of spreadable content. And expect more soon. The company won't comment on it, but Buzznet is believed to be the recipient of $25 million in recent venture funding. During the course of last year, it also brought on a stable of Internet veterans that includes Boyd, who joined last October from AOL Music, as well as several former Yahoo sales executives, and named former Feedster president Tyler Goldman CEO.

It's also been aggressive in reaching out to artists, many of whom host contests on the network, particularly those requiring some sort of media sharing. Avril Lavigne, for instance, launched a model search for her clothing line via the site, while 30 Seconds to Mars invited fans to upload pro-environmental videos and make donations to environmental charities.

It's this kind of hands-on programming and production that Buzznet hopes will set itself apart from the MySpaces of the world.

"I don't think it's that interesting to just do an audio streaming service," Boyd says. "That's incredibly important, but our users want the editorial around that. They want to create their own programming around that. So that's just one part of the piece, not the end-all, be-all."

Despite the recent activity, Boyd says the company now offers only 50% of what it ultimately hopes to make available, in terms of services and content. Some of the remaining 50% will come from internal work needed to integrate its recent acquisitions, but expect more label deals and possible acquisitions in the near future.

"The overall strategy is having the best and deepest experience," Boyd says. "If other sites offer that from an editorial or product end, we'd absolutely consider it."


Social networks prepare own music services

By Antony Bruno

DENVER (Billboard) - One of the biggest new-media sensations to emerge from last year were music-related widgets -- mini-applications that allowed members of social networking services like MySpace or Facebook to customize their profiles with such music features as streamed playlists and tour calendars with links to ticket sales.

What helped the widget trade to boom in the first place was that MySpace and Facebook didn't offer such services to artists and fans directly. But now that MySpace is readying a full-featured music service of its own, and Facebook is rumored to be working on something similar, what happens to all these widgets that filled that void?

It's hard to imagine that MySpace will block these applications once the music service rolls out. The company faced a harsh member backlash last year after it started blocking widgets, and it joined Google's OpenSocial initiative specifically to give developers the tools needed to write applications for MySpace that can also work on competing social networks.

So if MySpace doesn't block overlapping services, what happens then? Here's a quick snapshot of the main services MySpace Music plans to offer, the existing providers of the same and how this might shake out in the months to come.


Artists on MySpace can already stream songs in full, sometimes entire albums in advance of their release, as long as their label gives the OK. However, MySpace members haven't had the ability to construct and stream their own playlists from their profile without outside help. The leading widgets that enable MySpace users to do so are imeem and Last.fm.

Both are social networks in their own right that have capitalized on MySpace's musical foot-dragging to lead the way in online free streaming, and both are targeting MySpace's audience. It's unlikely that MySpace will rely on either to power its internal playlist/streaming features, particularly as it's not that difficult a service for MySpace to build on its own.


To date, Snocap's MyStores widget is the only official download-to-own application on MySpace. The site has blocked other third-party applications in the past. (Most notably Indie911's Hoooka app, chaffing MySpace celeb Tila Tequila when she tried to use it to sell her debut release.)

But the MyStores widget proved a bit of a flop. Slightly more than 100,000 of MySpace's 5 million artists embedded the store on their profile, and few sales followed. What's more, rival imeem has since acquired Snocap -- likely to add its own download-to-own service as well. Expect MySpace to either terminate its Snocap deal outright or simply wait for member artists to dump the app on their own.

MySpace is keeping a tight lid on exactly how it plans to deliver full songs, so any discussion of potential partners is pure speculation. One option would be a MySpace-branded download service that uses technology from a third party like MusicNet. Another would be to partner with an existing service, in which case Amazon would be the most obvious contender given MySpace's well-established distaste for digital rights management.


Any concert ticketing service will almost certainly have to include Ticketmaster, but the wild card is iLike -- in which the industry giant owns a stake. The No. 1 music application on Facebook has very little exposure on MySpace, and as such has little to fear from an overlapping service.

But iLike has grown far beyond its tour-date roots. The company is making a point of getting directly into MySpace's knickers by hosting artist profiles where participating acts can stream music, post videos and more. R.E.M. made headlines by streaming its new album "Accelerate" on iLike rather than MySpace, generating 1.5 million streams in the six days prior to its release.

What's more, iLike syndicates artist pages across a host of participating social networks -- including Facebook, Bebo and Hi5--and its recommendation engine makes it easier for artists to add friends to their profiles. (U2 has 10 times more friends on iLike than MySpace.)

"We always used MySpace as our inspiration and tried to innovate beyond it," iLike CEO Ali Partovi says. "They now seem to be duplicating things that we've created."

Expect a level of "co-opetition" here. Using some form of iLike's iTunes plug-in and viral touring promotion -- not to mention integration with Ticketmaster -- would only elevate whatever native ticketing application MySpace develops.


MySpace will very likely team up with one of the bigger providers like Live Nation and Musictoday to facilitate standard merchandise sales. But it also has a relationship with online retailer Zazzle, which lets fans customize their T-shirts, posters and other gear on-demand.

"We're not competitive with the merchandisers, the music companies or MySpace," Zazzle chief strategy officer Jim Heckman says. "We're just adding additional monetization, so I don't see any reason why we wouldn't extend our strategic deal with these partners."


Friday, April 18, 2008

India gov't, RIM to discuss BlackBerry security issues

The Indian government and BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion has set up a meeting to look for a way to meet India's security concerns, according to a Reuters report.

A government official disclosed the India's Ministry of Telecommunications has written to RIM asking for servers to be installed in India to help agencies monitor BlackBerry services.

A telecoms ministry spokeswoman confirmed that the meeting is set Apr. 21 to reach a solution that will be acceptable to the security agencies.

The India government has held a series of meetings with RIM and mobile operators after security concerns were raised on emails sent through BlackBerry devices that could not be traced or intercepted.

iPhone consumer appeal reshapes embedded design

The trend toward standardized platforms for development of embedded systems is almost certain to accelerate, according to a panel of engineers who study consumer behavior. Many of the reasons for their conclusion are embodied in the most influential consumer device of the past year: Apple's iPhone.

Jason Smart, director of interaction design at Smart Design, referred to the iPhone as the epitome of "user-centered design," echoing the words of moderator Patrick Mannion, editor-in-chief of Tech Online, who called the iPhone "a feat of software design and consumer enablement."

David Carey, who heads the "de-engineering" firm Portelligent, praised the iPhone poetically as a "glass cockpit" whose most significant feature was "almost dispensing fully with the keyboard" and directing the user toward the device's touch-activated screen. The success of iPhone is influencing engineers to reconsider the way consumers use electronic devices, Carey said.

In turn, this reconsideration has shifted design emphasis away from hardware embedded in a device and toward software that enables applications and defines the user interface.

Carey said that when his company reviews a device, an initial step involves taking it home for "the wife and kids to test." He wants to see if the user interface allows his relatively non-technical family to engage with it immediately, without resorting to the user manual. He said the failure rate in this test is "abysmal." Nine of 10 devices tend to pose "some significant wall to usability."

'Usability wall'
Elaborating on the "usability wall," Robert Day, VP of marketing at LinuxWorks Inc., cited the VCR as a classic "wife-and-kids test" failure. Few people, he said, ever learned to program or even set the time on their VCR. The antidote to the VCR, however, is TiVo, said Day, which can be operated by children and "non-engineering folks within minutes."

"It's a huge success and it's all software. It's an open-standard platform, it's reliable and it has a good user interface."

As further example of using standard software to simplify an embedded system for consumer ease-of-use, offered by John Graff, VP of marketing and customer operations at National Instruments, were robotic toys designed for Lego. When developing an interface that children must understand, "less is more," said Graff.

When the toys succeeded, said Graff, they prompted his engineers to think differently about designing non-consumer devices. "We were taking functions out of it and putting them into a professional environment."

The panelists agreed that simplifying an electronic device, to make it more user-friendly, tends ironically to require a higher level of complexity in software design. "There are layers of functions in devices," said Smart, "and none of it is very coherent." The solution is another layer of software " complicated in itself " that "makes a very complex application seem very simple."

Cost factor
Another reason for shifting toward more standard platforms and a broader dependence on software, said Carey, is cost. "As chip design costs go really stratospheric," engineers are getting "used to the idea that last year's hardware design is really adequate," at least for another year. For much less expense, he said, software innovations can breathe new life into old chips. "We need to abandon the notion that hardware innovation in the inside is the key to success."

Engineers should be asking, he added, "How long can I whip this horse before it really is out of date?"

A further trend forcing designers to layer over hardware with software applications is the need to integrate different devices in a single environment. An example is the dashboard of a car, which is fast becoming a display screen, offering everything from audio and video to engine diagnostics, satellite navigation and traffic alerts. Designing hardware that effectively stitches together the various elements of this electronic dash in every make and model is a recipe for confusion.

Said John Graff of National Instruments, "A range of devices, all functional in there, can't meet time-to-market unless there is a measure of integration in those components," integration that requires "a lot more focus on design of software."

'Demi Moore's Law'
Circling back around to the genius of iPhone, Portelligent's Carey compared Moore's Law to its consumer alter ego, "Demi Moore's Law." Although digital electronics can indeed double capacity and power every 18 months," said Carey, "the user's ability to take on all this technology" can't keep up. "Our brain does not double every 18 months."

He noted that while many of Apple's competitors in the mobile phone industry struggle to keep pace with Moore's Law, flooding the market with new models and new applications faster than consumers can absorb the "innovations," Apple has moved "very slowly," offering only two or three variations in its basic product since its inception.

"Apple is very satisfied to go very slowly, shipping its product and very slowly bringing the consumer along," he said. "Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up."

- David Benjamin
EE Times

Thursday, April 17, 2008

RF tuner tailored for receiver, transmitter filter apps

The RF200-2500TUNV1 is the first in a family from NuWaves Engineering of wideband, RF tuners (HiPerTUNER) that is designed for both receiver and transmitter filter applications.

The RF200-2500TUNV1 can be used as a premier pre-selector in a receiver or as a post filtering in the transmit-driver. The RF200-2500TUNV1 model covers an industry-first wide frequency range of 200MHz to 2,500MHz with multiple cascaded tunable varactor tuned filters to achieve superior out-of-band frequency rejection. The modular unit is housed in a small ruggedized aluminum chassis measuring 6.50in x 4in x 0.70in.

The HiPerTUNER uses SMA connectors to provide the end user with design versatility. The digital and power interface is a mini-Din 9 pin connector. The hardware can be easily configured with commands from a RS232 formatted input from any terminal program to control the attenuation level and frequency selection. Depending on the selected frequency, the typical bandwidth will range from 2 percent to 4 percent.

Pricing for the RF200-2500TUNV1 starts at $3,548 in small volumes; the RF200-2500TUNV1 HiPerTUNER kit will be priced at $3,988.

The kit will be available this quarter.

- Ismini Scouras

GPS faceoff: Garmin nuvi 750 vs. HP iPaq 310

GPS systems are forecasted to be one of the top growth areas for consumer products in 2008, with a number of different manufacturers offering different approaches to a GPS solution but all having relatively similar form.

The two GPS systems that were specifically analyzed for this teardown were the Garmin nuvi 750 and Hewlett-Packard iPaq 310, two relatively new GPS systems.

Bluetooth out, FM in
The Garmin nuvi has a 4.3-inch screen with a resolution of 480 by 272 pixels. It weighs about 176g and has a 1,250mAh Li-ion battery. The 750 model, however, does not have Bluetooth capabilities like others such as the 760 and 770. It does offer an FM transmitter to help consumers hear the directions over the stereo instead of the internal speaker. One neat feature offered is the route planning, where you can enter in up to 10 different places you want to go on your trip and it will take you to each instead of having to program in your destination at each stop. Of course, during you travels you can also listen to MP3s or audio books, or have a picture slide show going on.

Unlike the 760 and 770 models, Garmin nuvi 750 does not have Bluetooth capabilities.

For the components inside, the heart of the system is a Garmin- and OMAP-branded processor. While the exact part number is not possible to discern based on package markings, a decap of the device reveals that it is the Texas Instruments OMAP1623. This is the same as the OMAP1621, but with 512Mbit of mobile DRAM, based on an ARM9 core and a TI DSP. The same device has been used in a few of Garmin's previous products, like the 200W and 350.

The nuvi 750 GPS functions are controlled by the SiRF StarIII, which combines digital and RF functions in a single package, and runs a 50MHz ARM7 core. Storage relies on 2Gbit of SanDisk iNAND, which is a combination of the NAND flash controller, DRAM and NAND flash. In conjunction with the iNAND there is 512Mbit of DDR mobile RAM from Qimonda. Wolfson' WM8753 serves as voice and audio codec for the speaker.

For the battery Linear Technology puts up its LTC3557 USB power manager and Li-ion charger and three step-down regulators. There is also a National Semiconductor LP3990 150mA linear voltage regulator, providing an accurate output voltage, low noise, and low current. The part offers preset output voltages between 0.8V and 3.3V. It works without a reference bypass capacitor, thereby reducing the parts count.

Better resolution, battery
Physical dimensions are quite comparable between the Garmin nuvi 750 and HP iPaq 310 GPS systems. The iPaq is about 11g heavier at 187g and the screen is also the same size at 4.3 inches. The iPaq 310, however, offers a higher resolution at 800 x 480 pixels. The battery also offers a bit more punch with a 1,700mAh Li-ion battery. As opposed to the nuvi 750, the iPaq does have Bluetooth 2.0, but as mentioned, other nuvi models offer Bluetooth as well.

Although sporting a 4.3-inch screen like the nuvi 750, HP iPaq 310 offers a higher resolution at 800 x 480 pixels.

A glance at the board inside the iPaq quickly shows that it is a bit more complex than the nuvi. First off, we can see a Centrality processor. Centrality was acquired by SiRF last year. The one used here is the Titan dual core running at 600MHz with an ARM11 core.

In conjunction with the GPS capabilities of the Titan comes the 4110L GPS receiver IC from SiGe Semiconductor. This provides an on-chip LNA and a low-IF receiver with a linear AGC and 2bit ADC. Samsung's 4-die SLC offers 2Gbyte of memory in a single package while Micron provides 128Mbit of SDRAM.

Also on board, the Wolfson WM9712 codec controls the I/Os for the touchscreen and speaker while ForteMedia's FM1182 takes care of voice processing and includes echo cancellation and noise suppression. Finally, for Bluetooth connectivity, it has the Cambridge Silicon Radio BlueCore 4.

Really, the only similarity we saw was a design win in both GPS systems from Wolfson, although they were for different functionality. I guess you could say they both have SiRF parts, since Centrality was acquired. Other than that, both companies have really come up with their own spin on how to design a GPS system while still maintaining a relatively similar form factor.

- Gregory A. Quirk
Technical Marketing Manager
Semiconductor Insights

10Gbit FCoE drives data center convergence

Following a broad group of vendors' release of their first products for Fibre Channel over 10Gbit, startup SolarFlare is expected to announce a transceiver that can power 10Gbit Ethernet up to 100m over copper on a single 65nm CMOS chip that dissipates just 5.5W.

The moves fuel a broad industry drive to run networking, storage and clustering traffic over a single, mainstream pipe in tomorrow's data centers. The aim is to create one converged fabric, reducing the cost and power requirements of supporting today's multiple switches, adapter cards and cables.

"Somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies are going to be building data centers in the next three years," said Renato Recio, a chief engineer for server networking at IBM Corp. "They are looking for technologies to make them more green, and this network convergence group has that value—this rings for customers," he said.

Cisco Systems, Emulex, Intel, Mellanox and QLogic were among the many vendors that announced the first crop of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) products at Storage Networking World in last week. But with the exception of a few, including Cisco, many of the vendors are waiting for ASICs and standards to be completed before they attempt to field high-volume FCoE products.

The work on the 10GBase-T standard for Ethernet over copper lines only indirectly fuels the network convergence. Its primary aim is to lower the cost of and expand the market for 10Gbit Ethernet, which has been limited to expensive optical and short-reach copper cables to date.

Lower prices
Running 10Gbit signals over copper typically has required multiple chips using as much as 12W. The SolarFlare SFT 9001 transceiver could slash the power budget in half, but the company is still characterizing first silicon on the part, which it hopes to sample in May at less than $100.

"This is first silicon coming back, and it is very complex, but we are bringing it up now and we may productize on this stepping," said Bruce Tolley, VP of marketing for SolarFlare. "We could be a quarter to a third the price of the cheapest optics."

The 21mm² part is the third effort by the company, which was formed in 2001 and has raised $110 million in venture capital. The chip is intended for sockets in a broad range of servers, switches and network appliances.

Other startups, including Aquantia and Teranetics, are pursing a similar target, while established vendors such as Broadcom and Marvell may also be on the trail. One startup, KeyEye Communications, went bust in March pursuing the goal.

Without a long-reach copper option, the rise of 10Gbit Ethernet has been sluggish to date. Less than 400,000 10GbE switch ports were shipped last year—perhaps half of them not populated—and only about 30,000 server cards have been sold.

"Our goal is to put together a 10GbE server card that could sell for a $500 street price" before June 2009, said Tolley. "With this new silicon, we expect the market will start accelerating."

10GBase-T technology
"Getting 10GBase-T chips down to a 5W level will enable some realistic deployment," said Bob Wheeler, senior analyst with The Linley Group, "but it's still a horse race to see who can get that to production and what the exact power consumption levels will be."

Vendors are divided over the technology; IBM gave it high marks, but Cisco's new switch group gave it a pass.

"In my opinion, 10GBase-T is a very important piece because it significantly reduces my price point to use copper," said Recio of IBM. "I'd rather not use fiber in a rack, and it's an even better deal if my end-of-row switch can use copper."

The 10GBase-T technology "is great in terms of compatibility and simplicity," said Dante Malagrino, director of product marketing for data center solutions at Nuova Systems, acquired last week by Cisco. "But the additional power, cost and latency mean it is not really feasible for us, and I don't think we will use it."

Nuova, a 200-person startup, announced its first product—a 10GbE switch supporting FCoE—and plans to use a hybrid solution, based on a new copper cable terminated by SFP+ optical transceivers, that it claims has lower power requirements and lower latency than the 10GBase-T options. Malagrino pegged 10GBase-T at 2 to 3 microseconds in latency and 4- to 8W per link in power consumption. The new hybrid option will initially be limited to 1-, 3- and 5m lengths but could shave 30 percent off the overall costs of an optical fiber link, he said.

FCoE venture
On the FCoE front, most vendors have not yet completed work on new ASICs and software, with the exception of a few companies, such as Cisco. Because of the still-evolving nature of the underlying standards, even Cisco's new Nexus 5000 switch may need a software upgrade to comply with work on FCoE in separate T11 and IEEE groups.

The Wheeler noted that the new Emulex LightPulse LP21000 server card for FCoE uses four chips: separate Ethernet and Fibre Channel controllers, along with a PCIe switch and an address translation chip. The Emulex card runs existing Fibre Channel software drivers, tested on most current storage systems.

Emulex would not state the power consumption of the card, except to say it comes in under the 25W limit for an Express slot. The company plans a more integrated offering in 2009.

"It's not the most cost- or power-efficient product and looks more like a proof of technology than a high-volume product," Wheeler said of the Emulex card.

"The first half of 2009 is our target as an industry to get there with a competitive solution," said Recio of IBM. "If I get there with two or three times the parts, it's not worth it," he added, underlining the need for ASICs.

A top technologist at Fibre Channel switch maker Brocade Communications agreed. "Participating vendors are releasing prestandard products in 2008 for evaluation and test purposes, which will drive development of the integrated silicon in 2009," said John Hufferd, senior executive director of technology at Brocade. "Work done in 2009 will validate the use cases and contribute to actionable, deployable solutions for the data center in 2010 and going forward."

Cisco appears to be one of the few companies delivering an ASIC-based product at this point. The Nexus 5000 uses as many as five ASICs, including multiple instances of two key chips, said Nuova's Malagrino. "You need hardware to handle these transactions at line speeds."

One main ASIC in the Cisco system is a port controller that acts as an Ethernet controller, handling packet buffering and virtual queuing for lossless traffic. The other is a non-blocking crossbar switch with an aggregate bandwidth of more than a terabit/ second and an integrated traffic scheduler.

The system also uses a supervisory unit based on an Intel CPU running a new operating system co-developed by Cisco and Nuova. That OS is a hybrid based on the storage operating system used in Cisco's first Fibre Channel switch and Cisco's classic IOS networking software.

"All of the PHY definitions to make hardware compliant have been done in the standards groups," said Malagrino. "Most likely we will be able to claim [standards] compliance out of the gate [when the product ships in May], or, in the worst case, we will need a software upgrade."

The T11 spec for FCoE will probably be completed by August, according to Recio. However, the IEEE work, which is defining a lossless version of Ethernet to be a more robust foundation for FCoE, still has a ways to go.

"We saw that not enough progress was being made; we were stuck in a rut," said Recio. "So I called all these people in December, and we formed a new group, CEE Authors."

That group—adopting the name Converged Enhanced Ethernet, which many have used for the lossless standard—hopes to complete proposals before the end of May in three specific areas. The proposals will then be submitted to the IEEE group.

Some vendors want to implement products based on the proposals as a "Version 0" that they would upgrade later to the final standard set by the IEEE group.

"We think it's a good thing, and we are telling our customers a Version 0 product is fine," said Recio.

The CEE Authors group is chaired by Recio and includes representatives from Broadcom, Brocade, Cisco, Emulex, Fujitsu, IBM, Intel, Juniper, QLogic and Sun.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

Bluetooth gadget shipments up for growth in Asia

While Bluetooth has been in the market for almost a decade, it has not proliferated widely in Asia and in terms of consumer awareness, the region still lags behind others. However, the picture is changing, especially when it comes to cellular handsets.

A new study from ABI Research entitled "Bluetooth: Opportunities in Asia" indicates that Bluetooth-enabled equipment shipments in Asia will reach 982 million units in 2013, representing a CAGR of 39 percent over 2006 shipments.

"One of biggest barriers for consumers is cost," said senior analyst Andy Bae. "Consumers in Asia believe that the Bluetooth headset is comparatively expensive; they also seem to underestimate its voice quality."

Bluetooth has achieved its greatest penetration to date in mobile handsets, as mobile operators have demanded continuous support from manufacturers. In South Korea, the penetration rate in mobile phones reached 51 percent in 2007.

"Streaming music services over mobile networks, such as Japan's Chaku Uta, will be key drivers of Bluetooth inclusion in cellular handsets," Bae added.

The positive uptake in the cellular sector also produces a ripple effect for other devices. With increasing consumer awareness, notebook manufacturers now consider Bluetooth to be an suitable medium for exchanging files and data with peripherals and devices such as printers and digital cameras.

Bluetooth will still face challenges from competing short-range wireless technologies. In Asia, there are homegrown technologies to deliver music, voice and video within a small radius including Binary CDMA, Wireless USB and GiGa-Fi.

"Those technologies may have superior transmission capabilities," noted Bae. "But there is no other technology as well suited as Bluetooth for the transmission of audio services—nor does any other technology maintain the same price points or the same well-established market position."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nokia: Green handsets still years away

Mobile phones from recycled materials are still a few years away from reaching consumers' hands, said Markus Terho, director at Nokia's environmental affairs unit.

This is according to a Reuters report, which quoted the Nokia senior official as saying that the company expects the green push will boost demand and that it will become a competitive factor.

The handset maker has been promoting recycling cellphones and materials used in phones and CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo unveiled an ecophone concept phone at a trade show in Barcelona in February.

Terho explained that the lack of availability of recycled materials in very large scale would delay the take off of such phones. He assured though that green phones will be offered in a few years, saying that recycled materials already accounted for 40-60 percent of the metal parts in Nokia's current phones.

No formal iPhone talks yet for China Mobile

According to a report at Shanghaidaily.com, details about issues such as business models and commercialization have prevented China Mobile and Apple Inc. from entering formal talks over the iPhone. This is despite the intention of both parties to cooperate on the matter.

No time frame was specified for the talk on iPhone, China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou said in the report.

"Our door will remain open as long as there is customer demand," said the head of China's largest cellphone carrier in the report.

Wang said China Mobile subscribers currently totaled over 380 million, about 30 percent of the country's total population. The number had been expanding 6 to 7 million per month, mostly fueled by consumers in rural areas.

Apple launched iPhone in the United States last year. The Internet-enabled handheld device is expected to launch this year in Asia.

LG Display, Skyworth angle for China's LCD TV market

LG Display has forged a strategic alliance with TV manufacturer Skyworth Digital Holdings Ltd, to better position itself in the promising LCD TV market of China.

Both companies have entered an agreement in January under which Skyworth acquired a minority equity stake in LG Display's Guangzhou module plant in China. This agreement will allow Skyworth to secure a stable supply of LCD panels, thus gain a more footing in China, said to be the world's largest LCD TV market today.

Meanwhile, LG Display will secure a better customer alignment for its LCD TV panels ahead of the launch of the company's 8th generation TFT-LCD plant, P8, slated for 1H 09.

A signing ceremony regarding an agreement to set up an R&D Center in Guangzhou took place at a Skyworth's plant in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province April 7. Each party will invest $3.56 million to set up an R&D center for the co-development activities between LCD modules and TV sets.

Skyworth will also build a LCD TV production plant adjacent to LG Display's Guangzhou module plant. Thus, an LCD module plant, R&D Center and TV production plant will be co-located in the Guangzhou Economic and Technology Development Zone. This co-location is expected to enable timely production, lower logistics costs and efficient supply chain management.

Construction of LG Display's Guangzhou module plant began in August 2006. The module plant started mass production in December 2007 with annual production capacity of 8 million units, most of which are for LCD TVs and monitors. The annual production capacity is set to rise to 20 million units by 2010.

Nokia disappointed over slow mobile TV uptake

Finnish handset maker Nokia admitted at a conference last week that its push to promote mobile TV broadcasting did not go as well as it had hoped, Reuters reported.

Nokia has been promoting mobile TV broadcasts for years and its DVB-H technology won the EU support earlier this year, but only a few operators in Europe have opened TV broadcasting services.

Subscribers who watch TV programs on their cellphones use 3G mobile networks, bringing in long-awaited data transmission fees to operators, however it offers limited picture quality and user numbers.

Niklas Savander, Nokia Internet services head, said the rollout is slower than they anticipated a couple of years ago. He added that they have observed multiple segments who are not interested in the broadcasting, but rather in downloads.

IBM fields 'racetrack memory' for handhelds

IBM Corp. researchers are working on a technology dubbed as "racetrack memory," which uses tiny magnetic boundaries to store data for handheld gadgets storing hours of film footage.

This is according to a BBC News report, which cited a paper in the journal Science that said IBM's Almaden lab team in California had outlined ways to make the building blocks of the storage medium.

With the technology, capacity of MP3 players could increase 100 times from present levels. However, the team disclosed that the racetrack memory is still seven to eight years away from commercial use.

Memory push
Most desktop computers use a more durable but slightly more expensive flash memory, and cheap but less durable HDDs, to store data. The work being done on racetrack memory by IBM fellow at the Almaden laboratory, Stuart Parkin, and his colleagues could produce a storage medium that is cheap, durable and fast.

Parkin claims that the racetrack memory could even replace both flash and HDDs in computers and other gadgets. He added that it is possible to build the racetrack memory although they haven't built one yet.

The new technology stores data in the boundaries, known as domain walls, between magnetic regions in nanowires. The data races around the wire or track as it is read or written. Meanwhile, domain walls are read by exploiting the weak magnetic fields generated by the spin of electrons.

The less amount of power needed to exploit the fields allows the racetrack memory to generate less heat than existing devices.

In progress
Parkin, Masamitsu Hayashi and colleagues also described in the paper their progress towards making the building blocks of racetrack memory.

The team has been able to create, move and detect the tiny magnetic boundaries "properly timed, nanosecond long, spin-polarized current pulses." The development has paved the way towards creating working racetrack memory systems. In addition, the team has exhibited how to fabricate the slim wires that would form the racetracks on which data is stored.

If the expected data densities of the technology are realized, it could enable a portable MP3 player to hold up to 500,000 songs. Parkin disclosed they are working on building a prototype but that it could take up to four years to produce and another three or four to refine it for commercial use.

Virtualization: The Swiss Army knife of networking?

Startup Neterion Inc. has rolled out a chip that lets systems split one 10GbE link into as many as 16 virtual connections. The effort marks the latest milestone in a long quest to deliver a Swiss Army knife of networking capabilities for the data center in a single slice of silicon.

Virtualization is seen as the next hot feature for the servers that drive the Internet and back-end business computing. Ultimately, server makers hope to meld the technology with many others in chips that handle a combination of networking, storage and clustering jobs.

That goal is probably still more than a year away. In part, that's because the feature requirements list keeps growing, forcing respins of the chips along with sometimes-Herculean software-development efforts for devices that serve today's tiny market, albeit one with huge potential.

Chosen few
Neterion is one of the few companies competing to be the first to deliver all those features on advanced forms of Ethernet. The group faces competition from Mellanox Technologies, which is in the final stages of testing and writing software for 40Gbit/s Infiniband switch and adapter chips. Versions that will handle Ethernet and Fibre Channel are expected to ship in 2H.

Neterion's X3100 series chips carve parallel, bi-directional paths in silicon to let 16 independent jobs use a single 10GbE link simultaneously. It implements the new single-root I/O virtualization (SR-IOV) standards from the PCI Special Interest Group and proprietary techniques found in the latest software from virtualization specialist VMware Inc.

"This is a cost and a performance breakthrough, because the dirty little secret of virtualization is that as you start piling apps on a server, you can bring it to its knees," said Neterion CEO Dave Zabrowski.

The startup says its chip delivers throughput of 16Gbit/s across its two 10GbE links, even under heavy virtualization loads, compared with 2G-4Gbit/s for some competing chips. The device, which dissipates 12W on average, is tailored for servers using as many as four quad-core processors. It was scheduled to get to production this month at an undisclosed cost.

Neterion recently became the first chipmaker to support the NetQueue techniques VMware baked into its ESX version 3.5, released last December. The chip also moves from PCI-X to the 2.5GHz version of PCIe. The startup has gotten an edge in virtualization in part because of its longstanding work with IBM and Hewlett-Packard on proprietary Unix systems. "They are ahead of everyone else in virtualization, and getting there early, they could become a de facto standard," said Bob Wheeler, an analyst with The Linley Group.

The VMware software could be an early driver for 10GbE deployments, Wheeler said, since its queuing technique helps 10Gbit devices achieve something closer to their full throughput when running the virtualization software that OEMs and end users want to get the most bang for the buck from servers.

Becoming more attractive
"Virtualization has the potential to drive 10GbE adoption, but until now the products haven't had good enough performance," Wheeler said. With the ESX 3.5 software, "now the technology becomes attractive for high-end servers," he added.

Designers of virtualization software say they will support the new PCI hardware standard, but in some respects, it represents a step backward. "Hardware vendors tend to spin this as a panacea, but it is not," said Simon Crosby, group chief technologist at Citrix Systems.

The PCI SR-IOV spec "breaks the model of having guest software that runs independently of hardware, and makes the software need to think about hardware dependencies again," Crosby said. "In general, we see significant improvement [with PCI IOV] in workloads where you are really hammering the system with virtualization."

But developers are still working through concerns about reliability with sampling hardware and beta code, said Crosby.

"This won't be in volume hardware until sometime next year, and it is not clear exactly what it means to end users yet," he said.

The trouble is that chipmakers implement the PCI spec in unique ways, forcing software to follow the particularities in the chips' software drivers. Problems arise when a virtual session on one chip fails and has to shift to a session on another chip that may have a slightly different feature set.

Virtualization is on the rise. Real servers will take on more virtual jobs to improve system utilization.

Puzzle pieces
Virtualization is just the latest in a laundry list of advanced networking features designers are trying to pack into Ethernet in hopes of creating a unified data center fabric for servers, switches and storage arrays.

Like Neterion, startups NetXen and ServerEngines are prepping 10GbE silicon supporting the latest PCIe links and virtualization standards. Each device has its own mix of features that capture a snapshot in time of where the industry is driving the technology.

Thus far, no one has gotten all the pieces of the puzzle together yet," said analyst Wheeler.

Just beginning
"I don't know if we will get to one chip with everything in it, but to flesh out this converged-fabric concept, you need to get as much capability out there as possible, and we are still early in this effort," said Michael Krause, an interconnect specialist in the PC server group at Hewlett-Packard Co. "It's a longer period of time before you get all this in the chips in a way that's cost- and power-efficient."

In the meantime, 10GbE products of all sorts have been relatively expensive and slow. That translated into sales of just 50,000 such products last year, according to Linley Group estimates, penetrating a tiny fraction of a market of more than 10 million servers sold annually.

ServerEngines this month hopes to sample a new version of the 10GbE chip it announced in July. The device will step from 2.5GHz to 5GHz PCIe links and will support the SR-IOV specification.

The follow-on PCIe standard, called multiroot IOV, should be completed officially this month. The spec enables jobs from more than one server to share I/O resources.

The total throughput of ServerEngines' dual-ported chip will rise from about 13Gbit/s to full-rated speeds closer to 20Gbit/s, thanks to the 5GHz PCIe links. "People are dead if they don't have that," said Kim Brown, VP of business development for the startup.

Neterion's the big fish in tiny 10G Ethernet pond. Just 50k cards shipped in '07 market of 10 million+ servers.

ServerEngines has drivers for the VMWare ESX 3.5 software in certification now. Whereas its current, 130nm chip supports 32 separate protected domains to handle virtualization, the next-generation, 90nm part increases that to 64 domains.

For its part, NetXen expects to wait until later this year to roll out a chip supporting 5GHz Express. That's when Intel Corp. is expected to launch its first server chip sets supporting the link as part of its 45nm Nehalem family of processors.

NetXen says it gets one-way throughput of about 9Gbit/s per 10GbE port under the latest VMware software, although CPU utilization levels have gone up. The drain on host processors will ease when support for the SR-IOV standard kicks in toward the end of the year, said David Pulling, NetXen president.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

CSR ULP Bluetooth eyes medical apps

Wireless chip specialist CSR plc has for the first time demonstrated the Ultra Low Power (ULP) Bluetooth in silicon, targeted at a medical application.

CSR showed off the strength of the technology, which started off in 2006 as a Nokia project dubbed Wibree but was the following year incorporated into the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) as its low power derivative, at this week's Continua Health Alliance medical conference in Luxembourg.

In a presentation at the conference, Robin Heydon, CSR's standards architect, also talked for the first time about the Bluetooth Health Device Profile (HDP). CSR has designed HDP with the Bluetooth SIG to meet the specific needs of the medical electronics market.

CSR said the demonstration showed that its ULP Bluetooth silicon consumes 10 times less power than standard Bluetooth when connectable.

The set-up showed two ICs transferring ULP Bluetooth data packets 50 times faster than standard Bluetooth, meaning that the devices were consuming as little as 1/50th of the power. In addition, in establishing the connection, the ULP devices used 1/10th the power required by standard Bluetooth.

The demonstration ICs employed both standard Bluetooth (v.2.1) and ULP Bluetooth radios. CSR calls these devices "dual-mode" because they support both flavors of Bluetooth radio.

The group showed that when ULP Bluetooth is used, for example in a in a wireless heart rate monitor, the monitor simply "advertises" itself to the control/reader using just three frequencies, which could be a mobile phone or watch, that then connects sends its very short burst of data and then switches off again.

To connect devices in standard Bluetooth, the master device has to synchronize to a slave device by paging a specific device using up to 32 frequencies, it then issues frequency hopping spectrum packets, then it polls the slave, before negotiating connections at both the Link Manager and L2CAP layers. All this essential connection process takes place before actually sending data.

CSR noted that while this overhead is essential for standard Bluetooth carrying more complex data protocols, it does slow down the connection. The company confirmed its dual-mode (Bluetooth + ULP Bluetooth) silicon would be available during this year.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

Intel Atom-powered mobile PC coming in June

The first compact mobile PC to feature Intel Corp.'s newest Atom processor will be launched in mid-June by Japanese personal handyphone system provider Willcom Inc.

This is according to JCN Network, which reported that the Ultra Mobile Willcom D4, measuring 84mm x 188mm and weighing about 470g, will be equipped with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Vista OS and will sport a 5-inch LCD panel. In addition, the PC is packed with Bluetooth wireless communications technology, allowing voice call services using a separate terminal.

The Ultra Mobile Willcom D4 will sell for $1,272.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Verizon sees mobile consolidation on LTE

Verizon Wireless announced that the 4G mobile phone universe is consolidating around the Long Term Evolution standard (LTE) and that it plans to launch its LTE service beginning in 2010.

Breaking a Federal Communications Commission-ordered silent period that expired late Apr. 3, Verizon executives outlined the company's plans for the so-called "beachfront property" spectrum in a Webcast. The company, jointly owned by Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group, bid $9.36 billion for a nationwide spectrum footprint in the C block and for additional licenses in the United States.

"We now have sufficient spectrum to continue growing our business and data revenues well into—and possibly through—the next decade," president and CEO Lowell McAdam said. "This is the very best spectrum with excellent propagation and in-building characteristics. We also believe that the combination of the national, contiguous, same-frequency C block footprint and our transition to LTE will make Verizon the preferred partner for developers of a new wave of consumer electronics and applications using this next-generation technology."

Verizon executives said the company will work with Vodafone and China Mobile, laying the groundwork in the remainder of 2008 and beginning infrastructure deployment in the second half of 2009. A commercial launch is slated to get under way in 2010. The new spectrum is expected to be cleared for use by mid-February, increasing Verizon Wireless' average spectrum depth to 82MHz from today's depth of 52MHz.

LTE move
Company officials recently met at an industry function with leading wireless infrastructure firms Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and Nortel, and Verizon's executives came away with the conclusion that "the industry is all lining up around LTE." Verizon said the wholesale move by the industry to LTE will put an end to the "religious wars" that have been the hallmark of existing—and competing—wireless infrastructure standards.

Verizon executives said the coming deployment and adoption of wireless broadband will create "a tidal wave of innovation" as existing desktop applications move over to cell phones and the wireless world. They hailed the 700MHz spectrum as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Verizon added that the 102 licenses it acquired in the A and B blocks will help it deliver additional growth capacity in key markets.

Company officials alluded briefly to Google, indicating that the search engine company influenced the FCC to open up sections of the C block for use by devices and services by companies that don't own spectrum. Verizon initially opposed Google's effort, but later relented and announced a plan whereby independent providers can operate on the Verizon Wireless network after they or their devices have been certified.

- W. David Gardner

Motorola demos mobile WiMAX in APAC

Motorola held its first mobile WiMAX demonstration with live handoffs between access points to the public in Asia Pacific, in an exclusive bus tour at the WiMAX Forum Congress Asia 2008 in Singapore.

The demonstration is conducted through a mobile WiMAX network set up at Motorola's facility in Ang Mo Kio, Singapore. Attendees joining the bus tour were able to experience various mobile applications including video conferencing, web browsing and mobile streaming while moving past access point sites along the bus route. Additionally, as the WiMAX connection is extended through an air router, guests were also be able to experience mobile broadband through their own Wi-Fi enabled devices.

"Mobile WiMAX is an essential part of Motorola's portfolio to deliver broadband everywhere enabling consumers to access high speed Internet at home and on-the-go," said Mike Ropicky, senior director of marketing and product operations, home and networks mobility, Motorola Asia Pacific. "Today's demonstration reinforces Motorola's capability in providing and deploying mobile WiMAX technology that is ready for commercial deployment in the Asia Pacific region."

The network infrastructure is powered by Motorola's WAP 400 access points with backhaul provided by Motorola's wireless IP backhaul equipment at the company's facility. During the tour, the signal was seamlessly transmitted and handed off between access point sites, providing an uninterrupted broadband experience to users. Laptops enabled with Motorola's WiMAX PC cards for high speed video were also demonstrated on the bus.

Mobile WiMAX solutions will enable operators in Asia Pacific to provide cost-effective, fast and easy-to-deploy broadband services to fixed, portable and mobile users. Motorola has won numerous commercial contracts and conducted trials across Asia Pacific including the first trial in Thailand with United Information Highway.

Motorola now has 19 contracts for commercial WiMAX networks in 18 countries around the world.

Mobile location-based services to hit $13.3B by 2013

Global revenues of mobile location-based services (LBS) will hit $13.3 billion by 2013, up from an estimated $515 million in 2007, according to ABI Research.

After years of hype, mobile Location-based Services (LBS) are finally gaining traction among wireless subscribers, said the market analyst firm. This growth is driven on the supply side by W-CDMA and GSM handsets increasingly joining the CDMA-based devices that incorporate GPS capabilities; and on the demand side by surging consumer interest in personal navigation functionality.

Next consumer app king?
Personal navigation, although expected to remain the most popular consumer application over the next several years, won't be alone: friend-finder, local information searches, family tracker applications, and enterprise applications (including workforce tracking and fleet management), will all find niches under the LBS umbrella. Friend-finding service is anticipated to be the next service launched for mass consumption.

"Personal navigation and enterprise services are projected to be the highest revenue-generating services of the five LBS categories profiled, and are forecast to be worth about $4.3 billion and $6.5 billion respectively, per annum, by 2013," said Jamie Moss, ABI industry analyst.

Moss continued: "The interesting thing about the LBS content-producing sector is that much of the information is already available. It's a win-win situation for content providers: they already have established markets for their map and POI data (automotive and telematics), and LBS is yet another that could potentially provide them with considerable additional licensing revenue."

There are still, however, important service-related developments needed to ensure LBS's future success, said ABI. The wider availability of all-inclusive data tariffs will spur service usage, which will in turn reduce users' concerns about how much data value-added services like LBS might consume.

According to ABI, perhaps the most important development will be the cross-network interoperability of services. Once services provided by one carrier are capable of seamlessly incorporating users from other networks, then the usage of LBS will be driven virally by the desire to respond to and interact with friends and family on other networks.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Benefits of a Blogger Book Club

When it came time to promote Personality Not Included, Rohit Bhargava had the clever idea of inviting fellow bloggers to send him five questions about the new book. Apparently they liked getting an exclusive interview—at least 55 bloggers took him up on the offer.

Some qot right to the point. Kevin Duggan asked for Bhargava's elevator pitch. "Faceless companies don't work anymore," he answered. "In the social media era, personality matters. "

Others playfully queried Bhargava's general outlook. Referring to the American Idol judges, Scott Monty wondered if he considered himself a Simon, a Randy or a Paula. "Definitely Simon, because he's authentic," replied Bhargava. "Authenticity to me means not blowing smoke up people's behinds when you think they are stupid."

And Todd Andrlik asked a question that was probably on everyone's mind: Did the "weird little wind-up chickens" on the book's cover have any significance? Bhargava's pragmatic response: "Nope. Actually, they were just used as some imagery to get the book to stand out in the business section. Seriously, have you seen chickens on any other marketing books?"

Reflecting on the book-club experience, Rohit wrote, "The main reason I think this idea worked so well, is that bloggers got something tangible in return for participating ... I wasn't just asking for a favor, I was trying to do one for participants as well." And that's pure Marketing Inspiration.

Guess what? First cellphone call is 35 years old

Martin Cooper placed the very first public cellphone call 35 years ago.

Cooper, who is credited with inventing the portable cellphone, placed that call on April 3, 1973 while he was the general manager of Motorola's communications systems division.

Motorola recently announced the sale of its cellular handset business. Analysts speculate the company landed on hard times because it lost touch with the consumer.

The first cellphone was mammoth by today's standards—weighing two and a half pounds and 10 inches long. The phone could be used for only 20 minutes before the battery died.

Cooper together with his wife, wireless expert Arlene Harris, are founding executives of GreatCall—developer of Jitterbug, which is a cellphone without a camera, MP3 player, or Web browser. It is being touted as a cellphone that is optimum for "talking and listening".

"We created Jitterbug for those who still place value in what matters most—talking on a clear connection as part of a complete simplified service," said Harris.

Jitterbug works off simple "yes" and "no" prompts without complicated icons or menus, intuitive voice dialing and even a dial tone. The 24-hour service turns Jitterbug specific phone functions on and off so each customer gets a Jitterbug with only what they want.

- Nicolas Mokhoff
EE Times

Motorola shuts down handset production in Singapore

Troubled Motorola Inc. announced it would stop making cellphones in Singapore by the end of the year, resulting in 700 layoffs, according to a Reuters report.

A company spokeswoman disclosed that the decision follows a review of business operations, including the previously announced global $500 million cost-reduction plan.

Motorola will continue to base its Asia-Pacific headquarters for in Singapore where it also has research and software development units.

The company has previously announced plans to split into two publicly traded entities in 2009 to separate its sinking handset division from the rest of the business.

Will LED-backlit LCD TVs break into mass market?

LED-backlit LCD TVs, enabled by Dolby Laboratories' High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology, produce stunningly clear pictures. Unclear, though, is how much consumers will have to pay for that kind of picture quality.

"These products have been screaming to get out to a mass market," said Eric Haruki, research director for TV markets and technologies at IDC. But he cautioned that unless LED manufacturers can achieve the economies of scale and cut the cost of LEDs, "this could still remain a great white hope for awhile."

Despite a lot of interest in LED backlight units (BLU), "the reality is that the cost is 2-2.5x that of a cold-cathode fluorescent (CCFL) BLU," traditionally used in LCD TVs, said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media.

The recently demonstrated Dolby/Sim2 LCD TV—using Dolby Laboratories' HDR technology—would be much costlier than this, he added.

Scalable technology
Bharath Rajagopalan, business line director of image technologies at Dolby, would not comment on the cost of HDR-enabled LCD TV. Instead, he defended it by calling its technology "perfectly scalable." He said, "You can have different performance at different cost points."

But because of the ambiguous scalability debate, the cost question lingers. "Manufacturers have never quantified how many LEDs are necessary to strike the right balance between the cost and performance in backlighting LCD TVs," said IDC's Haruki.

None in the industry has come forward to speculate on the cost of HDR-enabled SIM2's LCD TV prototype.

"That is too hard to answer and it's too early to forecast cost," said Insight Media's Chinnock. "There are so many trade-offs in performance, number of LEDs, price target point, etc. The approach shown in Dolby/SIM2 is clearly expensive, and in line with SIM2's target customers who want the latest technology."

LED manufacturers aren't disputing the cost dilemma. Willem Sillevis-Smitt, director of business management at Philips Lumileds, acknowledged that the success of LCD TVs using LED backlight depends on the cost. By cost, he means the combined cost of LEDs and driver ICs to control individual segments of LED-backlit screen for local dimming. Nonetheless, LED suppliers have reasons to be hopeful for the future of LED-backlit LC DD TVs.

Use in notebooks
The transition from CCFL to LED is already happening among LCD screens used in notebook PCs. Sillevis-Smitt said, "There is a generic belief that notebook PCs with LED-lit LCD screens will jump from the current 10 percent to 50 percent in two to three years."

NXP Semiconductors is planning to leverage the notebook LCD display technology further.

Notebook LCD screens using LEDs are lit not from the back, but from the side, by LEDs lined up along one side of the screen. NXP engineers are hoping to emulate in LCDT TVs the side-lit approach, instead of backlighting.

Such a method "keeps the flat panel screen slim," below 25mm. By using fewer LED units, it also becomes more cost-effective," said Jacques le Berre, marketing and business development director at NXP. The method, however, has some limitations. Currently, it's effective only for relatively small screens, 24-inch to 30-inch TVs. When combined with 2D dimming and new video algorithms, the LED side-lit approach may be applicable to 32-inch or even 46-inch TVs in the future, said le Berre.

Le Berre summarized "four parameters" that are essential to enable the adoption of LED backlighting for LCD TVs. They are "cost, power savings, picture quality improvement and a slimmer TV."

Product development
Philips Lumileds supplied LEDs to Sony's Qualia, the industry's first iLCD TVs using LEDs, launched in 2003.

Although Sony, soon after the launch, withdrew Qualia from the market, that hasn't dampened the appetite among consumer electronics companies for LCD TVs with LED backlighting. Richard Doherty, research director at the Envisioneering Group, said that Samsung and Sharp have already gotten on the LED bandwagon, while soon Sony and possibly LG Electronics will join.

In fact, "Every TV manufacturer in the world is working on it, and everyone has a development model in their lab," said Philips Lumileds' Sillevis-Smitt.

To take the cost out of the LED-backlit LCD TV system, the most important element is "LED's efficiency," according to Sillevis-Smitt.

Working in favor of such efficiency improvements is an emerging industry-wide trend to move display backlighting toward white LEDs instead of RGB LEDs, observed Sillevis-Smitt. The use of white LED for display backlighting "offers a much simpler and more robust solution and it lowers LED counts."

Most LEDs used in new notebook PC LCDs are already using white LEDs. The Dolby/SIM2 prototype is also using white LEDs. Looking back on 2003, Sillevis-Smitt said that Sony's Qualia LCD TV, when launched, used 450 LEDs, which consumed 450W of power. "Four years later, we can offer the same picture quality by using 120 LEDs, consuming 130W, only 1/3 of the original power."

Vizio factor
Envisioneering's Doherty sees LCD TVs using LED backlighting as "too small a market" at this point. However, he added, "This 5-10 percent of market today might be 50-60 percent of all display profits in the next year or two." This is because ordinary LCDs will bottom out, becoming loss leaders, he said. In contrast, LED-backlit LCD TVs "will fill and command premium profits."

There is also a "Vizio" factor. Many in the CE industry were shocked to learn that Vizio Inc.—a little known brand name only a few years ago—gained in the fourth quarter of 2007 the third largest flat-panel TV brand market share in the United States, after Samsung and Sony, according to iSuppli. "Five years from now, TV vendors will have to offer higher performance—such as brighter contrast ratio—to differentiate their products in demonstration." IDC's Haruki said, "After all, on a brightly lit floor at a retail store, the brightest screen always wins."

Guido Voltolina, marketing director of image technologies at Dolby, said that with HDR-enabled LCD TVs, consumers could see the difference in picture "with zero explanation." According to Voltolina, Dolby's consumer studies in Japan and the United States both showed, "More than 20 percent of consumers said that they would buy a 37-inch LCD TV with HDR technology, even with an additional cost of $1,000." More than 70 percent said that they would not trade it for a five-inch larger screen size. But once LCD TVs start to take off, even a bigger question looms: Can LED manufacturers keep up with volume production?

Question of supply
The industry has relatively few LED manufacturers. Considering annual sales of 70 million units today, if each TV starts to use more than 1,000 LED devices for backlighting, LED volume demand will soar. Scaling up production could take a while.

But Sillevis-Smitt insists that Philips Lumileds has a manufacturing platform to pull it off. The company offers high powered LEDs, called Luxeon, designed for higher output and smaller form-factor—only one quarter the size of the industry's average LED.

Philips Lumileds currently ships "millions of Luxeon LEDs," he said, "that are being used in displays in automotive, monitor and special display applications." Moreover, Luxeon Rebel, the product the company offers for display backlighting, was released over a year ago and it's been in high-volume production. Philips Lumileds has also shipped more than 100 million Luxeon LEDs used in cellphone camera flash.

"This is relevant, because it demonstrates our ability to respond to a quick and steep ramp-up scenario, and secure supply for a high-volume consumer electronics market," claimed Sillevis-Smitt.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times