Power to the People: Digitally-Controlled Power (DCP) moves into mobile phones

Mobile phones increasingly are packing a host of other features beyond simple voice communication, including multimedia, gaming, cameras, computing capabilities, high-end audio and color displays. For mobile phone designers, this piling-on of features presents a major challenge: how to supply the juice for a device with such complex functionality and such a correspondingly complex set of power requirements.

Unfortunately, the solution to this challenge doesn't reside in today's integrated analog power management ICs, iSuppli research has revealed.
iSuppli's Teardown Analysis team of engineers and component experts almost continuously has a new phone splayed out on the bench, in pursuit of determining the very best and cheapest way to build one of these handy little appliances. Time and again, the team finds a state-of-the-art analog power management IC, complete with Low-Drop Outs (LDOs), buck converters, boost converters, charger control and other functions. However, on top of the integrated power IC, they also see a plethora of discrete LDOs, converters and other devices seemingly garnishing the large Power IC.

In today's supposedly integrated world, watt's up with all the discrete power elements?

The answer lies in the consumer's appetite for added functionality. Each new or improved feature impacts some individual voltage, current or power sequence parameter, requiring new silicon to be added.

Consumers' quest for features is outrunning designers' ability to feed the beast with hard-wire changes and enhancements to analog power management ICs.

However, upcoming power solutions for mobile phones are using DCP techniques to address these problems.

iSuppli defines DCP as the integration of microcontrollers, Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) and application-specific silicon and software algorithms for system monitoring, internal and external communication and control of power systems. Designers are applying DCP to a wide range of electronic products.

Figure 1. AC coupled stages can mask DC flaws in operation.

In mobile phones, iSuppli anticipates DCP soon will be used not only in the reference-feedback loop, but more importantly to configure and customize the power management system to meet the requirements of the individual phone model. Instead of taking months to accomplish and verify the latest analog power-management IC fab spin, DCP allows power system development to be accomplished and put into production in 24 hours.

In one example of how this works, designers can perform system configuration via a user-friendly graphical user interface and an I2C bus supporting a frequency of up to 400KHz for dynamic voltage control. Using a standard digital power management IC, individual load requirements can be programmed and regulators paralleled, interleaved, stacked and sequenced according to the feature set and power requirements of the specific phone model.

Using DCP in mobile phones, a constantly changing array of features can be powered efficiently without requiring yet another new hard-wired-only analog IC to be developed. Time-to-market can be reduced drastically. Bill of Materials (BOM) and inventory costs can be cut as component count decreases.

Obsolescence charges will shrink as designers support power requirements for new features using changes in code, rather than changes to components.

Consumers will reap the benefits of DCP in the form of optimal cost and battery life for whatever array of tools and toys they choose to include in their mobile phones.

Now that's power to the people.


Gary Vick is a director of Advisory Services for iSuppli Corp and manages the company's Power Technologies practice. Contact him at:

The report, Digital Technology Invades Power Supply Control Market, from iSuppli's Power Management service covers the DCP market in detail, providing forecasts and analysis of multiple semiconductor technologies and application markets.

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