On Monday Texas Instruments follows Broadcom by implementing a fat radio chip that can offer Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM radio, NFC and GPS, plus Russian satellite system Glonass, in one package. But what is different about this chip is that it also has a controller that can manage some tasks usually handled by the phone’s processor. And keeping the processor asleep is a key way to save on power.
Instead of waking up the application processor to authenticate an NFC transaction, the controller from the radio chip can chat with the SIM card to authenticate a purchase. Having this kind of intelligence also opens up some fun applications such as real geofencing, where the Wi-Fi or GPS chips can send location info to the controller, which can run a program that sets boundaries for anything from mobile coupons to texting a parent if a kid leaves a certain radius.
Those types of applications can now happen in the background and won’t require the assistance of the gigahertz chip that helps handle graphics and everything else required from the “brains” of the smartphone. Will it save great gobs of power? That is unlikely, and TI was vague on how much it would help (it also didn’t want to disclose the package size, which makes me wonder how large it is). TI did say this chip will be appearing in products in the middle of this year.
However, many mobile phone application processors now have multiple cores that can run at different speeds precisely to help save on battery drain. The phone would only use the most powerful core if it was required, and it can default to the less powerful core when possible to help conserve juice. With more application processors running multiple cores that all top out at the highest possible performance to handle the compute task they are now taking on, it looks like TI is betting on moving those lower-tier functions over to another chip to keep the power-saving party going.