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Spreadtrum pushes Android into sub-$50 space

Chinese chipmaker promises the lowest cost Android handset platform yet, supporting EDGE/Wi-Fi or China Mobile's 3G

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 12 December, 2011

READ MORE: China | Semiconductor | Handset | Android

As Android moves into the low cost handset market, the Chinese chip players, which thrive in that space, are increasingly active. MediaTek already offers a system-on-chip optimized for the Google OS and with mobile web services pre-integrated, geared to emerging markets, and its smaller rival Spreadtrum Communications is now claiming the cheapest Android platform yet, targeted at phones costing $40 to $50.

The new chips run at 600MHz, with one (the SC8805G) for China Mobile's TD-SCDMA 3G standard, and the other (the SC6810) for 2G+ handsets supporting EDGE plus Wi-Fi. Both come with a hardware reference design and compliance-tested software, which Spreadtrum says will accelerate time to market. Both are based on an ARM-9 processor which supports Android 2.2, 2D graphics, camera up to 5-megapixels, MPEG4, HVGA touchscreen LCD display and a range of connectivity options including Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, FM and mobile TV.


Designs based on these platforms have already been though the China Mobile testing process, says Spreadtrum, and should appear in commercial products as soon as this month, with about 12 vendors, mainly low cost Chinese manufacturers, expected to use the chips. Most of these will be targeting China Mobile, which has said it expects to sell over 30m TD-SCDMA smartphones next year, mainly in the low cost segment as the high end, early adopter space saturates. But the Spreadtrum design, while initially optimized for Mobile, will also be offered to vendors creating affordable handsets for many emerging markets.

This is an opportunity which creates dilemmas for market leader Qualcomm, especially in bases where CDMA, in which it has a near-monopoly, used to be the norm. The US firm was reported to have slashed prices of some 3G chips for the Asian markets recently to keep its hand in against MediaTek, but has to be careful not to sacrifice too much of its margin as the smartphone sector shifts to the low end. Qualcomm is seeking to counteract this swing by putting more efforts into high end and non-handset silicon, hence its acquisition of Atheros and its push to get Snapdragon into tablets, cloudbooks and media devices.

At Spreadtrum, CEO Dr Leo Li said the firm had combined its expertise in 40nm basebands and highly integrated SoCs to push down the costs and make smartphones more accessible to consumers in China and emerging markets.

The SC6810 is designed for markets where 3G roll-outs are still immature and EDGE/Wi-Fi offers the best coverage and data rates. This is an important platform in China and elsewhere - China Mobile has sold large numbers of iPhones despite having no official Apple deal and no TD-SCDMA version of the handset, to users who primarily rely on the Wi-Fi.

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