How cheap can you make a cell phone?

How cheap can you make a phone? The $12 Gongkai Phone article tells about a very cheap quad-band GSM phone found from China. This article is a brilliant introduction of this $12 phone. Brilliant because there is a tear-down and technical details. This is a really amazing price point. It is amazing how the price of SoCs needed to build this kind of devices is plummeting.

I have also never heard before of this this new “gongkai” ecosystem. The $12 Gongkai Phone article tells that if you know a bit of Chinese, and know the right websites to go to, you can download schematics, board layouts, and software utilities for something rather similar to this phone…”for free”. It feels like open-source, but it’s not: it’s a different kind of open ecosystem. Gongkai a network of ideas, spread peer-to-peer, with certain rules to enforce sharing and to prevent leeching. It’s very different from Western IP concepts. In the gongkai ‘eco system’, it seems the primary optimization aims for cost reduction (which might not be sustainable over longer time period, a race to the bottom).

One of the article comment mentions a DIY SMT pick and place forum that is almost 100% mandarin and they’re doing crazy sick stuff: And there was a mention on another similar very cheap similar phones: Slim Mini card mobile phone and Mini-M1 GSM Bar Phone w/1.2″ TFT LCD, Single SIM and Quadband.


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  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Royalties are a big part of the price of the smartphone

    When the smart phone using a variety of techniques, they will have to pay royalties for technology developers. About 350 eruon pluralistic device for royalty payments can account for the order of hundred euros, or nearly a third.

    For example, the baseband circuitry is paid royalties on all 3G and LTE technology development. Depending on the size of the royalties from the modem can grow up to more than $ 50, or more than 40 euros. Wi-Fi chipset royalties account for nearly as high as that cell network modem.

    The phone’s operating system is paid royalties for an average of 5-8 US dollars, ie 4-6 EUR per phone. It is evident that Microsoft nets with Android phone royalties more money than the Windows Phone smart phones.

    In addition, the smartphone will raise the price of the mandatory video codecs, without listening to music or watching videos would not be possible. They royalty payments, however, vary greatly.

    AAC codec is paid royalties only about twenty cents. MP3 royalty is less than a dollar class, but H.264 codec royalty payments are already over 10 dollars, or about 8 euros.


  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Reverse-Engineering a Superior Chinese Product

    It makes an Arduino look like a 555. A 364 Mhz, 32 bit processor. 8 MB RAM. GSM. Bluetooth. LCD controller. PWM. USB and dozens more. Smaller than a Zippo and thinner than corrugated cardboard. And here is the kicker: $3. So why isn’t everyone using it? They can’t.

    Adoption would mandate tier after tier of hacks just to figure out what exact hardware is there. Try to buy one and find that suppliers close their doors to foreigners. Try to use one, and only hints of incomplete documentation will be found. Is the problem patents? No, not really.

    [Bunnie] has dubbed the phenomenon “Gongkai”, a type of institutionalized, collaborative, infringementesque knowledge-exchange that occupies an IP equivalent of bartering. Not quite open source, not quite proprietary. Legally, this sharing is only grey-market on paper, but widespread and quasi-accepted in practice – even among the rights holders.

    He contrasts this with the West where only the big players like Apple and Google can step up to the plate. Everyone else is forced to use the embarrassingly obsolete hardware we are all familiar with

  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    From Gongkai to Open Source

    About a year and a half ago, I wrote about a $12 “Gongkai” cell phone (pictured above) that I stumbled across in the markets of Shenzhen, China. My most striking impression was that Chinese entrepreneurs had relatively unfettered access to cutting-edge technology, enabling start-ups to innovate while bootstrapping. Meanwhile, Western entrepreneurs often find themselves trapped in a spiderweb of IP frameworks, spending more money on lawyers than on tooling.

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