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Cell phone chip shrinks

A diminutive "receiver" from RF Micro Devices makes room on cell phones for a larger screen or new functions such as video.

Chipmaker RF Micro Devices on Monday unveiled what it claims is the smallest version yet of an integral part of a cell phone known as a "front end receiver."

The Greensboro, N.C.-based company said it has shaved a half-millimeter off all four sides of the receiver, which is the first semiconductor that a phone signal passes through when it reaches a handset.

RF Micro Devices spokesman Michael Coady said the new chip designs are to meet the growing demand by cell phone makers for tinier components. That creates room for handset makes like Nokia or Motorola to increase the size of a phone's screen or add new functions such as the ability to watch videos.

"People are always asking if we can shrink it down," Coady said.

Indeed, handset makers have turned cell phones into veritable Swiss Army Knives, said Jupiter Analyst Joe Laszlo. For instance, AT&T Wireless and others are now selling a phone that can take photographs and e-mail them to others. Phone makers are also adding Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, two techniques for wirelessly shuttling information between electronic devices.

Other handset makers, particularly in the Korean market, are doubling the number of front-end receivers inside phones. That enables the wireless Web networks, to which they sell access, to download videos or songs at a faster clip, Coady said.

"The questions for phone makers has become 'What else can you put in there?'," Coady said.

RF Micro Devices claims it's now got the smallest front-end receiver in the cell phone business. The receiver measures 3 millimeters long by 3 millimeters wide. Most other receivers are between 3.5 and 5 millimeters.

The new chip designs are meant for phones using the standard CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). About 20 percent of the world's phones use CDMA, whose patents are controlled by San Diego-based Qualcomm.

The company declined to reveal which handset makers would be purchasing the chips, which are available now. However, the biggest customer for RF Micro chips is Nokia, which represents about 65 percent of the companies revenue, according to analyst firm WR Hambrecht.