NEC and Renesas have both developed new mobile phone processors that will push multimedia functions in handsets.

The chips support higher quality digital images and multimedia processing. The Renesas chip - the more powerful of the two - can also support digital television broadcasting.

The MP100 from NEC, and SH-Mobile 3A from Renesas, have support for digital cameras built in - mobiles typically have an additional chip to drive a digital camera. This could mean a smaller, lighter handset or space for other chips such as more memory. The NEC chip supports up to a three-megapixels while the Renesas chip supports up to a five-megapixels.

Renesas' digital television support covers the H.264 standard that will be used in Japan's ISDB-T system, DVB-H and DMB. The NEC processor isn't powerful enough to cope with digital television but the company says its MP211 released last year serves that function..

Both companies are also offering software to add other multimedia functions. For example, NEC offers code to play audio in formats including MPEG4 AAC, MP3, Sony's ATRAC3 and Microsoft's WMA, as well as video in MPEG4, H.264 and Windows Media Video format. Other formats supported include JPEG, QR Code and JAN barcodes.

NEC estimates that software design represents about 60 percent of total development time for 2G phones and has risen to around 80 percent for 3G handsets, primarily due to the greater complexity of the functions.

By adopting the chip and the company's software, handset manufacturers will be able to cut down on software development costs and reuse more software from handset to handset, said Masakazu Yamashina, general manager of NEC Electronics' mobile systems division.