Symbian to cut license fee and develop Freescale reference design

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According to this Reuters story Symbian is planning to develop a reference design using a single chip solution with US chip maker Freescale. This follows similar reference design in partnership with Intel and Texas Instruments. Reference designs are aimed at lowering development times and cost for Symbian phones. Additionally the reports states that Symbian, as expected, will be lowering its licensee fees. The official details of these announcements will likely be made at 3GSM. Read on for more.

The Freescale reference design is set to use a single processor (likely one of the i.300-30 3G Platform) which will enables the creation of low cost 3G phones. Until recently Symbian phones used two processors, one for the OS operations and one for the telephony (radio) operations. By replacing these two chips with one chip considerable cost savings can be made in the bill of materials (BoM - how much its costs to build a phone). For example Texas Instruments estimates the saving potential is up to 20% on overall cost when using it's TI2420 on which it's latest reference design for Symbian OS is based.

Support for single chip solutions was added via a new kernel for the Symbian OS (EKA2) together with a Real Time Compatibility Layer. The new kernel was first introduced as an option or add on for Symbian OS 8.1 and was built in to Symbian OS 9. The first phones to use the new kernel are the most recently announced Symbian FOMA, Nokia Nseries and Eseries and Sony Ericsson phones (P990i M600i).

Reference designs also help address the issue of the cost of developing a Symbian phone. While the larger phone manufacturers, such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson, can afford the high initial investment required and offset it through the creation of multiple handsets; smaller manufacturers do not have this option. By creating reference platforms in conjunction with it's semi-conductor partners Symbian enables smaller manufacturers to buy a ready made smartphone in component and integration terms and instead concentrate on the design and user software of such a device. The Freescale reference design is important because it is particularly suited to low cost handsets thanks to its single chip design. Symbian hopes to encourage more manufacturers to use the Symbian OS in their mid tier models and reference designs will be a key part of package it offers.

Single chip solutions are part of a wider Symbian strategy of driving down costs in order to get onto mid-tier handsets. This explains why Symbian is likely to be announcing reductions in it's license fees. Currently these stand at $7.5 for the first 2 million units a licensee ships and $5 thereafter. Reuters reports a reduction in the minimum license fee to $2.5.

Previously the license fee was a not a great concern because it represented less than 3% of the BoM. However this percentage has recently been rising and with the BoM cost dropping towards $100 this trend would only continue. This together with the threat from Linux (the true cost of which is not really clear) has meant the license fee was likely an increasing concern to Symbian's licensees. The twin specters of profitability and large licensee fees cheques from Symbian biggest shareholders are also contributing factors.