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DSP-IP gets a keener look from Asia

Posted: 18 Aug 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:pc? dsp. wireless?

Was it Newton who said that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction"? There was the downturn, and the semiconductor flock hurries up to the Asian pasture; there was the maturing PC industry, not a moment too soon comes a barrage of wireless technologies; and there was major cost-cutting, and then a growing fabless community.

CEVA Inc., a licensor of programmable DSP cores and communication solutions, tags along this chain of reaction. The company positions itself as the DSP solution of choice -- for cell phones and mobile multimedia applications -- in Asia.

"What we see happening in the industry is the move toward the OEMs getting more control of the design and sourcing the chips to foundries. This major business shift fits our model well and it's being driven worldwide, but certainly Asia is at the front of the pack," said Chet Silvestri, chairman and CEO of CEVA Inc.

CEVA projects an image that it calls a DSP-centric licensor of intellectual property, so much the same way a company sells licensed microprocessor core in related hardware and software that would be used by IDMs or OEMs that integrate and create customized designs and then go to a foundry to have such designs built exclusively for them.

"Historically, people have wanted their chips from Texas Instruments, Analog Devices or Motorola, but the economies and the ability to add value is not really what you need for the huge variety of consumer applications that are powered by these devices," he added.

In demand

One of CEVA's latest offerings is its 6G licensable core: CEVA-X. The CEVA-X architecture combines instruction level parallelism with configurable two, four or eight MAC options, 16bit or 32bit data word and the capability to extend the instruction set with customer defined co-processors. It was designed as a fully synthesizable solution (soft-core) allowing licensees to customize DSPs to individual markets with complete flexibility in terms of cost, power consumption, clock speed, foundry and process.

The primary target market for CEVA's DSP-IPs are high-growth applications such as multimedia A/V in things like DVD players and recorders, digital still cameras, PDAs and the up-and-coming digital TV. Another important target market is cellular handsets, where DSPs have been used and are currently used to provide the wireless communications functions.

"If we look forward, much more DSP integration is going to be necessary for holding application functions, whether its camera, audio download, ringtones, or even TV download broadcast," Silvestri said.

The primary value CEVA offers is a synthesizable module. Once can integrate IP into an SoC and there is no need to develop a separate chip to add primary applications, whether it's a cellphone or a consumer device.

By unit volume, 60 percent to 65 percent of CEVA's business is in cellphones.

"These days, the handset business is becoming global. The new-generations that everybody is working on--multi-mode that will support GSM, W-CDMA and 3G standards can sell in all territories," Silvestri said.

In this year's Q1, three major companies already licensed the CEVA-X product. Two of them are Korean companies: Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and EoNex Technologies Inc.

Samsung, the third largest manufacturer of mobile phones in the world, has licensed CEVA-X1620 DSP core to power a range of applications, including its next-generation, 3G multimedia handsets.

"This is a big deal for CEVA, and further validation for the company, which already licenses DSPs to Infineon, and ships over 42 million chips per year using CEVA core," said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts.

Silvestri said that in any business, the product must be as good as your competitors, or even better. "CEVA-X certainly does that for us. It's as good as anything you could buy from other companies, but the real compelling advantage is that our business model is the 'design-and-foundry approach' of creating chips, not an integrated solution from a proprietary manufacturer," said Silvestri.

CEVA also partners with Chinese companies, but in some way indirectly. For example, a number of the platform suppliers--companies supplying chipsets, reference designs and software for cellular handsets--license CEVA's DSPs, build their platforms and sell out to handset manufacturers in China. "We have a client in France targeting their products in China and other parts in Asia. These are examples of how we can address these markets," he added.

Year-on-year, CEVA's business in Asia grew from about just over 15 percent in revenue to about 30 percent. "That's almost double, and we think Asia will become 40 percent of our business going forward."

- Denice Obina

Electronics Engineering Times- Asia

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