Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Inside a Digital Cell Phone
On a "complexity per cubic inch" scale, cell phones are some of the most intricate devices people use on a daily basis. Modern digital cell phones can process millions of calculations per second in order to compress and decompress the voice stream.
If you take a basic digital cell phone apart, you find that it contains just a few individual parts:
- An amazing circuit board containing the brains of the phone
- An antenna
- A liquid crystal display (LCD)
- A keyboard (not unlike the one you find in a TV remote control)
- A microphone
- A speaker
- A battery
The circuit board is the heart of the system. Here is one from a typical Nokia digital phone:
The front of the circuit board
The back of the circuit board
In the photos above, you see several computer chips. Let's talk about what some of the individual chips do. The analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion chips translate the outgoing audio signal from analog to digital and the incoming signal from digital back to analog. You can learn more about A-to-D and D-to-A conversion and its importance to digital audio in How Compact Discs Work. The digital signal processor (DSP) is a highly customized processor designed to perform signal-manipulation calculations at high speed.
The microprocessor handles all of the housekeeping chores for the keyboard and display, deals with command and control signaling with the base station and also coordinates the rest of the functions on the board.
The ROM and Flash memory chips provide storage for the phone's operating system and customizable features, such as the phone directory. The radio frequency (RF) and power section handles power management and recharging, and also deals with the hundreds of FM channels. Finally, the RF amplifiers handle signals traveling to and from the antenna.
The display and keypad contacts
The display has grown considerably in size as the number of features in cell phones have increased. Most current phones offer built-in phone directories, calculators and games. And many of the phones incorporate some type of PDA or Web browser.
The Flash memory card on the circuit board
The Flash memory card removed
Some phones store certain information, such as the SID and MIN codes, in internal Flash memory, while others use external cards that are similar to SmartMedia cards.
The cell-phone speaker, microphone and battery backup
Cell phones have such tiny speakers and microphones that it is incredible how well most of them reproduce sound. As you can see in the picture above, the speaker is about the size of a dime and the microphone is no larger than the watch battery beside it. Speaking of the watch battery, this is used by the cell phone's internal clock chip.
What is amazing is that all of that functionality -- which only 30 years ago would have filled an entire floor of an office building -- now fits into a package that sits comfortably in the palm of your hand!
In the next section, we'll get into the cell-phone networking methods.