TOKYO Careful to state it won't pile more empty promises onto Bluetooth, the prodigal portable networking technology, fabless startup Transilica Inc. has announced what it calls the world's smallest and most cost efficient Bluetooth chip set.
Acknowledging that Bluetooth faces an uphill battle in the wake of Bluetooth silicon that doesn't actually allow gadgets to talk to each other, Transilica chairman and chief executive officer Hock Law told EE Times that the Transilica module was both cheap and communicative.
Noting the $5 cost that been described as a necessary precedent for the mass market acceptance of Bluetooth, Law said that "there is nothing magical about $5. We know we can hit $5 if the yield is right."
Measuring 8 mm2, Transilica's two-die multichip module includes one 64-kbyte die of embedded flash, and a second die that integrates an RF radio transceiver, digital baseband modem, 4 kbytes of SRAM, a cod ec, serial and USB interfaces and an enhanced 8051 processor that operates on 2.3 to 3.5 volts.
Transilica (San Diego), founded in 1999, is releasing three versions of the Bluetooth chip set. The TR0740 features dual serial ports with 32 general purpose I/Os and is aimed for use in computer peripherals, remote controls and joysticks. The TR0750, aimed at wireless headsets, cordless phones and intercoms, features an audio codec, serial and general purpose I/O ports and supports up to three simultaneous SCO connections. The TR0760, aimed at laptops, PDAs, printers, scanners and digital cameras, integrates a USB, serial I/0 and GPIO ports and software that supports both embedded and host applications. Offered in BGA packages with 64 pads or balls, the modules measure either 12 x 30 mm or 25 x 30 mm.
The modules combine a blend of tradeoffs that Transilica believes will make the chips which will soon be available in $950 evaluation kits attractive to Japanese manufacturers, said chief tec hnology officer Jonathon Cheah.
First off, the chip's auto tuning in its radio and digital baseband modem will help avoid complicated factory tuning, said Cheah. Secondly, by choosing the 8-bit 8051processor, customers will get Transilica's royalty-free software protocol stack for the module's 8051 processor. Thirdly, the module's embedded flash cuts $2 off the cost of external memory solutions required with the offerings of competitors such as Cambridge Silicon Radio, Cheah said.
"We used 4 kilobytes of SRAM to handle all software and manage all FIFOs," Law said. "The only additional components required for our solution are passives and crystals."
To sidestep a different Bluetooth bugbear interoperability with other Bluetooth devices Transilica has opted for closed applications such as headsets and cordless phones. Backward compatibility is vital to achieve interoperability, said Cheah.
"The real question, according to my understandin g, is that the 1.0b- and 1.1-compatible devices could not talk to each other because the 1.1-compatible devices were not backwards compatible with the 1.0b [spec]," Cheah said.
"A lot of lessons have been learned, like developing a solid product combined with low-cost manufacturing while keeping the consumer in mind, not just the technology," he added.
Transilica has participated in three rounds of unplugged tests in the United States and is convinced that its chip can talk to "anything," said Law. "We are going to go to very strict compliance testing, but this is evolving. Our target at this uncertain time is to provide closed solutions."
While the chips will not be available until the fourth quarter, Transilica will push evaluation kits at the Japanese market first, said Masa Nakamura, vice president of sales and marketing in Japan. A small company with about 60 engineers, Transilica has also set up offices in Taipei, Taiwan and Singapore as part of its Asian focus.
The company envisions a three-step approach to the Japanese market. It will start with headset and cordless phone makers this year, then will attempt to penetrate the notebook PC, peripheral and games markets in 2002, then later move on to mobile phones and cameras, Nakamura said.
Transilica is already talking to three Bluetooth development teams at Toshiba Corp., said Nakamura, who declined to identify other possible customers in Japan.