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Chipmaker Sandbridge packs in standards

Sandbridge Technologies says it's the first chipmaker to cram an entire medley of cell phone standards into a single handset.

Sandbridge Technologies said Monday that it's the first chipmaker to pack an entire world of cell phone standards into a single handset.

The White Plains, N.Y.-based company will begin shipping the chips this year to handset makers, and the first "world phones" will appear by the end of 2004, according to Sandbridge spokesman Jeffrey Schwartz.

"That's three to five years ahead of what people thought," he said.

Sandbridge's chips create chameleon-like radios for cell phones capable of changing from one interoperable wireless standard to the next. The radios flip among Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM), and any of a clutch of other wireless standards using either software stored in the phone or downloaded over the air.

The design is a radically new one for phones, which usually are built from radios permanently etched into silicon.

"It's going to blow a hole in the cell phone market," Schwartz said.

Mastering so many different standards has proven difficult--even for Nokia, the world's largest cell phone maker. The financial stress of developing so many different lines has forced some companies, such as Sony Ericsson, to nearly drop some standards from their lineups.

And the standards picture will only get more complex as service providers introduce another half dozen or so interoperable standards in the next two years. The avalanche began Monday, when Cingular Wireless became the first wireless carrier in North America to launch a network that uses the Enhanced Datarates for Global Evolution (EDGE) standard. The network currently is limited to Indianapolis.

Chipmakers Intel and Texas Instruments say they're developing what are known as "software-defined radios" for cell phones. "It's just in the research phase, so it's several years away from (becoming a) product," an Intel representative said. A Texas Instruments representative did not immediately return calls for comment.

Schwartz said two handset makers, one in Europe and another in Asia, will make the first cell phones using Sandbridge's chip, but refused to name them.

One likely candidate is Siemens, which on Monday announced it invested in Sandbridge. While stopping short of saying that Siemens is making a world phone, Bjoern Christensen, CEO of Siemens Venture Capital, said in a statement that the phones are "strategically relevant to Siemens' mobile phone division."