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TI enters NFC phone chip market

The semiconductor giant has launched WiLink 8.0, a new family of all-in-one combo chips that include an integrated NFC controller chip and come “paired and pre-tested” with embedded secure element chips from both Infineon and NXP.

Texas Instruments' WiLink 8.0 combo chips
WILINK 8.0: Five radio technologies, including NFC, in a single chip

Texas Instruments (TI) has announced a new family of all-in-one combo chips that integrate up to five different radios including WiFi, GNSS, Bluetooth, FM transmit and receive, and an NFC controller.

In all, the new WiLink 8.0 range comprises fifteen chips divided into five families. Two of the five families, the WL189x and the WL185x, include NFC functionality. The WL189x solutions are tailored for smartphones, tablets, ebooks, ultrathin computing devices and other feature-rich mobile products while the WL185x is designed to “provide additional options for higher to mid-tier devices”.

The new chips are the first to include an integrated NFC controller solution and are paired and pre-tested with embedded secure element chips from a number of suppliers, including both Infineon and NXP. The chips yield “a more than 50 percent size reduction as compared to non-combo solutions,” says TI. “As the first combo chip family to embed a complete NFC controller solution, WiLink 8.0 devices make NFC integration possible – and more simplified – on any mobile device,” the company explains.

Overall, the chip maker says, “the five-radio WiLink 8.0 chip offers a 60% cost reduction, 45% decrease in size and 30% lower power consumption compared to traditional multi-chip offerings.”

All the new chips are 45-nanometer single-chip solutions, come in a WSP package that can be mounted directly on a PCB and include all required RF front ends, a complete power management system, and comprehensive coexistence mechanisms.

“TI’s new WiLink single-chip solutions will trigger new innovations in design of portable platforms,” says Infineon’s Juergen Spaenkuch. “The new WiLink family pairs perfectly with Infineon’s embedded secure element solutions using the open and high-performance DCLB [Digital Contact Less Bridge] interface, which offers an optimized connection between the eSE and the NFC modem.

NXP has also provided TI with a positive endorsement of the new product. “NXP is pleased to partner with TI’s first-to-market five-in-one combo connectivity solution,” says NXP’s Jeff Miles. “As the mobile transactions market faces accelerated growth, it is vital that highly capable innovators provide complementary solutions that fill all market segments and further enable the market.”

“This milestone is a huge deal for consumers, our customers, partners, and last but not least the TI team,” David Lacinski, strategic marketing manager for TI Wireless Connectivity Solutions, explains on the TI blog. Lacinski then provides examples of four ways in which the company believes the new family of chips will provide improved performance to consumers:

Hybrid-location “shopping”: WiLink 8.0 solution-based devices blend partial and full data from the Wi-Fi and sensor systems, complimented by Bluetooth low energy, ANT and NFC augmentation mechanisms, to recognize a device’s exact location. The ability to use various inputs allows users to pin-point their location when no single solution is able to do it. This truly opens the door for unprecedented amount of options for the consumer to make buying choices.
Commercialized NFC: We’re starting to see NFC come to mobile devices today, but there is still a major barrier: the cost of the implementation. With the industry’s first solutions to integrate an NFC controller, the WiLink 8.0 family removes this barrier completely, transforming NFC from a high-end feature to one that’s relatively free for manufacturers to include. The door is officially open for NFC to come to more mobile devices.
Not your grandma’s FM: WiLink 8.0 lets users receive and transmit FM signals, in parallel with running other connectivity features. Hook up to the TVs at the gym via FM signals to enjoy jams during a work out. Transmit content from your smartphone to home stereo – or even to your car sound system (this feature is made possible only with Bluetooth today, but not all of us have new cars with Bluetooth inside).
Five radios… and then some: WiLink 8.0 solutions also support ANT+ and Bluetooth low energy, and the simultaneous use of these with other radios on chip. Today’s devices only run one protocol at a time. With WiLink 8.0, you track your miles on an ANT+-enabled mountain bike, with also using Bluetooth low energy to monitor your heart rate on the ride.

“Integrating five radios – with additional support for Bluetooth low energy and ANT+ protocols – onto a single chip is no small feat to make all the radios ‘play nice while simultaneously operating’,” Lacinski adds. “Similar to members of a choir, the radios need to ‘sing’ with each other, not over each other.”

WiLink 8.0 solutions are sampling today to top-tier mobile OEMs and the first products using the technology are expected to ship in the second half of 2012.

Next: Visit the NFCW Expo to find new suppliers and solutions

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