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DSP intellectual property strengthens supply chain

Posted: 01 Apr 2001 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:dsp? intellectual property? ip? design libraries? monolithic supply chain?

Allowing OEM developers of DSP-based SoCs to select the "best in class" of each piece of the supply chain will enable them to build better products, argues Mark Bowles.

Mark Bowles is the president and COO of Bops Inc.
The availability of high-performance programmable digital signal processor intellectual property is a reality in the supply chain serving today's largest OEMs and semiconductor vendors. That development has the potential to upset the traditional balance of power in the high-volume, high-dollar market for DSP-based SoCsa market predicted to exceed $6 billion in 2001to the point that OEMs may once again have control of their destiny.

ARM and MIPS substantially altered the supply chain for 32-bit RISC controllers by dominating the highest-volume and most lucrative embedded-design wins. DSP IP is poised to launch a similar assault on the traditional design wins and supply chain for DSPs.

Developers of systems in wireless, networking, communications, video and consumer products see a shift toward more integrated SoCs as well as a growing reliance on DSP functionality in the systems they sell. The result is that the supply chain for those complex devices has narrowed. But times are changing, to the OEMs' benefit.

The traditional monolithic supply chain comprises three distinct pieces: intellectual property, semiconductor design services and wafer fabrication services. The independent availability of those three areas has allowed for specialization and tremendous advancements not seen before. Advances in tools and design-services methodologies have created a whole new industry, on which OEMs and even traditional semiconductor vendors rely. Fabrication costs have plummeted. OEMs can either access an entirely new supply chain or source a piece, such as the intellectual property, through their traditional semiconductor supplier. In essence, they have the freedom to have it their way.

Arguably the most important piece is the wide availability of best-in-class intellectual property, which enables SoC chip designers to create the tens of millions of transistors required to deploy a competitive SoC device.

The past few years have witnessed an explosion in 32-bit controller IP, with ARM, MIPS, ARC, Tensilica and others serving that market. Meanwhile, such companies as InSilicon, Mentor Graphics and Tality are amassing vast libraries of other building-block intellectual property, such as bus interfaces, analog components and I/O peripherals. But until recently, high-performance DSP IP was not readily available for this supply chain.

In recent years, a class of vendors of high-performance programmable IP has emerged that will enable DSP-based SoCs for such high-volume embedded applications as digital cellular, networking, communications and console gaming.

When OEM developers of DSP-based SoCs are once again allowed to select the "best in class" of each piece of the supply chain instead of being forced to buy them as a bundle from a single supplier, the OEM will have a healthier, more competitive supply chain and will be able to build better products. That will benefit end customers.

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