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One chip to bind all cell phone functions

Qualcomm puts multimedia engine and other features on a single chip, one of three aimed at helping handset makers build cheap models.

Qualcomm on Wednesday unveiled several chips designed to underpin inexpensive cell phones with MP3 players and cameras, pitched at emerging handset markets in Latin America, India and China.

The three new processors--the 6010, 6020 and 6030--are the first in Qualcomm's line of single-chip products. Each contains everything--the modem, radio transceiver, power management, multimedia engine and security features--it takes to make a basic cell phone. Single-chip cell phones, in theory, reduce handset makers' costs, which translates to lower-priced phones for markets where cell phone penetration is very low.

The lineup is a sign of how single-chip design is becoming more attractive to handset makers. Texas Instruments, a major provider of mobile processors, has already announced it has developed a single chip for cell phones, while No. 1 handset maker Nokia has one in development.

Qualcomm's new chips should enable manufacturers to create a less-expensive version of phones using its CDMA 1X standard. (Two years ago, the technology was the power behind state-of-the-art phones, but those handsets have since been supplanted by faster and more processing-heavy models.) The newly released 6020 chips, for instance, support MP3 players, and the 6030 can handle both a camera and a music player.

The chips will likely have more of an impact on the ultimate price of MP3 phones, which cell service providers typically sell for $50 or more. Camera phones have already joined the class of phones that network operators all but give away in exchange for getting people to sign up to a service contract. CDMA 1X operator Verizon Wireless, for example, has sold two camera phones for a total of $50 as part of a Web site special in the United States.

Qualcomm intends to provide samples of the chips before March 2006, it said in a statement on Wednesday. The San Diego-based company did not respond to a request for comment on how much phones using the single chips could cost.