MediaTek joins the Open Handset Alliance

Targeting budget Android handsets with low cost SOCs

AS OF YESTERDAY, the Open Handset Alliance gained a new member in MediaTek, a company mostly known for its optical drive controllers and various solutions for DVD players. However, the company has more recently become a serious player in the cellular phone market, especially in China, so its move to join the OHA makes a lot of sense.

MediaTek’s initial cellular solutions were all 2G, but late last year MediaTek entered into a cross-licensing agreement with Qualcomm which has enabled it to deliver 3G connected solutions into the market. In fact, many of the so called Shanzhai phones are powered by MediaTek and it’s also a reason why so many of these devices lack 3G connectivity. However, by joining the OHA it seems like MediaTek has its sights set on a new goal, which one has to presume will be the budget Android handset market which is just starting to take off.

Currently you’ll have a hard time finding an Android phone that retails for less than $250 without a contract tie-in, although there are a few budget handsets in the market, of which most are only on sale in Asia. As we’re moving away from the “dumb” phones to more connected devices, lower cost Android devices will become a new market segment. One way of doing this is to drop features, but what’s the point of having a smartphone if it’s not all that smart?

The other solution is to use components from companies such as MediaTek and the company is already offering a wide range of SoC solutions with fairly novel features such as built in TV-tuners and TV output. However, this isn’t enough to compete with the more established SoC makers and so far MediaTek’s chips have mostly ended up in bad copies of more well known manufacturer’s devices from various Chinese Shanzhai’s. On top of that there has been something of a clampdown on the Shanzai manufacturers which doesn’t bode well in the long term for MediaTek.  As such, it seems wise for the company not to put all of its eggs in one basket.

With close ties to the Chinese handset manufacturers MediaTek is of course also offering solutions for the Chinese 3G standard TD-SCDMA and with China currently being its biggest market, this makes a lot of sense. It’s worth remembering that China has its own custom version of the Android OS that generally goes under the name of OPhone. The OPhone OS might not be part of the OHA, but considering the two have a similar code base, it makes a lot of sense. Why develop hardware for only one platform, when you can develop it for multiple platforms at once.

MediaTek also makes various other parts such as the actual RF components which are no less important that the processors that powers the OS. MediaTek doesn’t provide a lot of specifics to its different solutions, but the company offers W-CDMA transceivers with HSDPA support and of course TD-SCDMA solutions. This means that its partners can get multiple parts that have been tested to work well together from the one and same supplier. This generally tends to create discounts for the actual device manufacturer which in turn means more attractive product pricin.

We might see the first Android based handset with MediaTek’s SoCs in them by the end of the year, although so far the word is mum with regards to potential partners. It’s very likely that MediaTek will try to get in with the cellular network operators with the help of its partners to provide affordable Android devices that are exclusive to the network operators. The question is how much market space there is for MediaTek, but if it can offer hardware solutions that are competitive not only in price, but also in terms of performance to say Qualcomm’s entry level solutions, then there’s no reason why MediaTek couldn’t become something of a threat to the more established players in the cell phone SoC market.  Good news for the average purchaser.S|A

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