A new mobile phone chip that can be programmed to deal with virtually any protocol will bring down handset prices and help add networking capabilities to other devices, according to its manufacturer.

Sandbridge Technologies said the chips can become just about anything a manufacturer wanted them to be: Wi-Fi handsets, GPS devices, multi-media broadcast receivers and any type of cell phone.

President and CEO Guenter Weinberger said vendors could build multi-mode handsets without adding a separate "baseband" or communications processing chip for each type of network, he said.

Each additional baseband chip that is added to a phone adds about $5 onto the cost of a phone's silicon, according to Will Strauss, an analyst at Forward Concepts. That can translate to about $30 in the phone's final price, he said.

All the major cell-phone chip makers are moving toward single-chip designs that incorporate many capabilities, and Sandbridge probably can't dislodge them from their tight relationships with big handset makers, Strauss said. Still, Sandbridge may be able to get a head start of a year or two, attract some small and possibly larger handset vendors, and put price pressure on the market, Strauss said.

The fabless semi-conductor vendor was founded in 2001 and set out to make a programmable baseband chip with the capacity to do many functions with low enough power consumption for a handset, Weinberger said.

The first chip based on its SB3000 architecture, called the SB3010, is available now in sample quantities. In addition to baseband processing, it also is powerful enough to handle applications and multi-media processing, he said. The 3010 is designed for 3G handsets, and Sandbridge is looking to add another chip next year for higher speed 3.5G networks such as HSDPA, as well as WiMax.

Analysts said it will be hard for a newcomer to break into the handset market because of competition from vendors such as Freescale, Texas and Intel. For phone vendors with existing chip suppliers, shifting to a new architecture would be expensive, said Max Baron, an analyst at In-Stat. But Sandbridge chips might find a place in products from new manufacturers, Baron said.

Where Sandbridge might make the biggest impact is in new types of devices, such as digital still or video cameras that can stay connected to the Internet over different kinds of networks depending on location, Baron said. If the company's chips have enough processing power, they could shift the device to the best available network for price, speed or power consumption, based on the user's priorities, he said. That capability might even come in handy in cars, Baron added.