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Innovision unveils next-generation NFC phone technology

Adding NFC functionality to a mobile phone will soon cost less than a dollar, says Innovision’s Stephen Graham, with 15% to 20% of all the handsets shipped in 2012 set to include the company’s low-cost NFC technology.

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INNOVISION: Gem 2 architecture can be implemented in 65nm and 40nm silicon

NFC technology specialist Innovision Research & Technology has unveiled a new version of its Gem NFC IP, a suite of designs, patents and know-how which together form a complete on-chip NFC sub-system designed to enable NFC functionality to be added at low cost to mass-market mobile phones and other devices.

While current generation NFC phones require a separate NFC controller chip to be built into the handset, Innovision’s Gem NFC IP provides mobile phone chipset manufacturers with a way to build NFC functionality into their existing ‘combo chip’ products. Semiconductor companies such as QualcommTexas InstrumentsBroadcomMarvell and CSR already offer these combo chips as a cost-effective way for phone manufacturers to add functions such as Bluetooth, WiFi, FM radio and GPS to their products and, with Innovision’s know-how, NFC can also be added to these chips at a substantially lower cost — under US$1 compared to the $5+ cost of a standalone NFC controller.

This approach involves far higher set-up costs than a standalone chip solution, however, which means that the combo chip approach only makes economic sense when NFC is built into very large quantities of phones. Now, demand from phone manufacturers is strong enough that “several major semiconductor suppliers to the mobile phone industry” have licensed Innovision’s Gem IP, the company’s Stephen Graham has told NFC World, and “every single one of them is definitely strongly interested in NFC.”

That demand will lead to the first phones featuring NFC-enabled combo chips hitting the market in 2012 and, says Graham, between 15% and 20% of all the handsets shipped that year will feature its Gem NFC IP.

After that, a second wave of low-end NFC handsets is expected to arrive eighteen months to two years later. While the first wave will see NFC being added to more expensive smart phones, the second will see NFC reaching both low-end devices and the ultra low-end phones aimed at the developing world. Here, because these phones don’t usually include the functions offered by combo chips, NFC functionality will be built into the main baseband processor, finally making NFC phones affordable to all.

The new version of Innovision’s Gem NFC IP is specifically designed to work with the chip technology mobile chipset manufacturers will be using from 2012. Version one of the technology was designed to work with the 3.6V power supply used in current phones; the new Gem 2, however, uses 1.8V which means it can be implemented in the 65nm and 40nm CMOS processes that chipset manufacturers will be using in 2012.

“Our aim is to open up the market to any semiconductor company, regardless of size and scale, that wants to develop low-voltage, low-cost stand-alone NFC controllers, or integrate NFC into SoCs [system on a chip] for mobile phones, PCs and consumer electronic devices,” Graham concludes.

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