The future of 4G is murky

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Basic design and silicon to achieve power and cost targets for 4G data or phone based devices is still not in place, according to a report from a senior semiconductor analyst.

Malcolm Penn, the CEO of Future Horizons, said in his monthly report to his clients that the range of wireless applications comes about by "improvements in silicon and the economics of silicon".

He said: "New radios require increased processing power to either modulate or demodulate the RF signal and also to compress and decompress the digital information. The spectral changes and electronic equipment needed to service new wireless requirements represent an opportunity for semiconductor manufacturers."

Penn said that one of the main reasons for the delay in introducing 3G was that the original designs soaked up too much power. "The processing overhead for the CDMA demodulation and decoding took more power than the GSM standards. Advances in design and lower power silicon processes have now allowed 3G handsets to become more practical because of a longer time between charges. A similar jump in processing power is needed when we go to 4G," he said.

He claimed the definition of 4G and the modulation system "is still rather hazy" but will likely be based on orthogonal frequency division multiplex. Nevertheless, new data or phone devices will need developments in both basic design and silicon.

But the future is bright for semiconductor manufacturers because the chips they make can be used in a bigger variety of electronic equipment.

He continued: "New areas of development for digital radio types include new software defined radio architectures and novel techniques like UWB devices." These are being created by smaller players in the market, he said. "When these techniques become more fully developed, it is likely that some of the larger companies with wireless expertise will seek to obtain the technology either by acquisition or by licensing if they are not developing it themselves." Qualcomm, he said, has "made an art of acquiring intellectual property" relevant to future cellular systems.

He concluded by saying that all handheld devices will have connectivity and this means careful spectrum management to eliminate interference. Future Horizons is here.