The conference is definitely smaller this year. I guessed about 50,000 in attendance on Monday, but estimates I heard on Tuesday ranged from 40,000 to 45,000, which is about 10,000 fewer than last year. I’d have to agree, since you can actually walk in the aisles, and the lines for that half-cup of extra-strong coffee aren’t as long.

There’s lots going on in the mobile world. The global economic problems haven’t hit the cellular industry as they have hit the automobile, real estate, and other industries. The wireless market is down, of course, but still growing according to everyone I have talked to. There’s growth—just slower. That’s certainly better than the alternatives. And, this growth was evident with the nine companies I spoke with on Tuesday.

On The Tube

My morning began with a meeting with Chet Babla, director of marketing at chipmaker Mirics. His company announced a killer RF chip that can be used to make any radio, from low-band AM to L band and everything in between. Like many other companies, Mirics initially is targeting the mobile TV market for handsets and laptops. The whole mobile TV thing is happening, though more slowly than expected. But isn’t that business as usual in wireless?

The key challenge that Mirics faced was demodulation. Where does the design accomplish that, especially when you’re facing at least a dozen mobile TV standards? The answer: software. Yes, an RF semiconductor company can develop DSP software demodulation. What other wireless chip guys have those kinds of programming resources?

Mirics uses its RF zero IF radio chip and then its demod software in DSP. The company is targeting laptops and netbooks that have lots of extra computing capability to run the DSP demod. This enables laptop and netbook manufacturers to use only one set of hardware and DSP software as needed to serve any standard or world market.

Israeli chipmaker Siano takes another approach. Its single-chip tuner has on-board demod circuitry for all the major standards. Siano’s chips are in some Dell laptops and in a product by SoftBank that makes a mobile TV accessory for the iPhone.

French mobile TV chipmaker DiBcom is also at the show touting its single-chip solution for DVB-T and DVB-H. All of these guys are looking at the ATSC U.S. digital TV standard, which now has a version for handsets. Japan has proved that over the air TV is the way to go when embedding TV in a handset. It’s also good for laptops and the hot new netbooks.

The bottom line is that mobile TV is happening, but it is a broadcast TV model, not TV over the network for cell phones or laptops. Over the air TV is the way to go—that is, free TV, not a subscription for just a few channels that you may not want. Look for 4-ft rabbit ears on your next cell phone.

Putting Wireless To The Test

All the major test equipment manufacturers are at MWC as well, like Agilent, Anritsu, Rhode & Schwarz, and Tektronix. I had a good briefing with representatives from test leader Agilent. Their big news is a wide range of test products and solutions for China’s TD-LTE standard. The rest of the world uses FDD LTE, but China uses a TDD version so it can be compatible with its TD-SCDMA standard.

With China’s huge population, continuing rapid growth, and geographic size, there are going to millions of these TD handsets and thousands of basestations to support them. Manufacturers need a fast and easy way to test all of these systems. Agilent also rolled out a whole slew of other LTE test products. The company recently published a book on LTE standards and testing that ought to be a hit because of the dearth of LTE books of this depth. It will be out in April, and I will review it for you then.

I also spoke with Azimuth, another test equipment manufacturer. Azimuth makes a channel emulator designed for testing LTE and WiMAX products with MIMO. It’s a great way to test for multipath and fading that’s hard to simulate in real life. The frequency input ranges are 450 to 2700 MHz, 3300 to 3800 MHz, and 4900 to 5900 MHz, which are all the bands likely to be used for WiMAX or LTE worldwide with MIMO.

Another very interesting briefing came from CEVA, an IP company that licenses its DSP to dozens of chip companies. Its CEVA-X processor has been around for years and is buried in millions of products worldwide. CEVA claims over 60% of the DSP market. Its new processor, the CEVA-XC, is even more powerful thanks to its up to four vector processors that can easily handle any DSP function. The XC also uses minimal power because of its unique power-management circuitry. That makes it a candidate for handsets as well as fixed applications.

I also spoke with representatives from Continuous Computing, Marvell, Octasic, the NFC Forum, and Adobe. Yes, Adobe. Its new Open Screen Project aims to put Adobe Flash and other products on the handset screen. Adobe’s overall goals are to adapt the Flash platform for Web browsing and standalone applications.

Adobe wants to empower designers and developers to create unique content and applications across the full range of screens including the handset. So far, the company has put Flash into the Qualcomm BREW platform and is optimizing Flash for the ARM v6 and v7. Operating systems that will be supported include the new Palm Web, Android, Symbian Nokia S60, and Windows Mobile. I will have more on this later and an article on it for a future issue.

Look for more coverage tomorrow, and I will wrap up the show with an overview of trends and developments.

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