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Sequoia releases multimode 3G chip

Five radio frequencies in one processor could mean better battery life and lower cost for 3G devices.

Sequoia Communications is testing a new wireless chip that it claims will help 3G devices communicate more efficiently while extending their battery life as much as 20 percent.

The SEQ-5400 is a single-chip radio transceiver that can handle five wireless standards: WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access); HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access); EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution); GPRS (General Packet Radio Service); and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), the San Diego-based company said Monday. A radio transceiver is a two-way radio that combines a radio transmitter and a receiver to exchange information.

Sequoia Communications' SEQ-5400 multimode transceiver
Credit: Sequoia Communications

Previously, handset manufacturers needed to install four or five separate transceivers in handsets and other third-generation devices to achieve the same multimode claims. That's because wireless standards have traditionally encountered difficulties in sharing information.

Single-chip cell phones, in theory, would also reduce handset makers' costs, which translates to lower-cost phones. That could be a boon to handset manufacturers in markets where sales of 3G cell phones have not achieved mainstream status due to price.

The SEQ-5400 single-chip transceiver should extend battery life in 3G devices by as much as 20 percent next year, Sequoia said. In future generations of the product, the goal is a savings of up to 50 percent.

"Adding 20 percent (to) 50 percent battery life sounds incremental, and it is, but 3G phone users will take what they can get." said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. "Also keep in mind that in the United States, only Cingular would be able to use the Sequoia chip because they are the only ones on the GSM track. Sprint and Verizon use CDMA, and T-Mobile doesn't have as much bandwidth as it needs here for 3G."

The new transceivers are scheduled to ship in the first half of 2006, Sequoia said.

The company said it's coming out of stealth mode after working on its designs since the company launch in 2000. Sequoia Chief Executive Dave Shepard and Chief Technology Officer John Groe have assembled a team of engineers from Texas Instruments and Nokia to help develop the company's radio technology.

Sequoia said it wants to position its SEQ-5400 to compete with a host of other fabless semiconductor companies working on combining wireless standards. Qualcomm is working on a single-chip WEDGE transceiver the company said won't be available to test until March 2006.

In addition to testing, Sequoia is looking at making its technology an industry standard. Because Sequoia is backed financially by Motorola, Nokia, Cadence Semiconductor and IBM, that may come to pass. But even Sequoia admits that achieving industry-standard status doesn't prevent another company from copying or buying up its 64-pin, multimode, no-lead chip designs.

Intel, Agere Systems, Texas Instruments and Broadcom are also expressing a strong interest in the SEQ-5400 chip because of its multimode qualities, said Charlie Wilcoxson, vice president of marketing and business development at Sequoia.