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Smart-card ICs are purely flash based

Posted: 23 Sep 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:flash memory? silicon storage technology? sst? smart-card ic? theseus titanium?

In a move to expand outside its traditional low-density flash memory market, Silicon Storage Technology Inc.'s recently acquired business unit, emosyn has developed a smart-card IC line called Theseus Titanium that it is targeting at the SIM and 3G USIM markets.

The company last year acquired fabless chip vendor Emosyn, which has been supporting the smart-card market for approximately five years. Before Emosyn became a business unit of the company, it used SST's SuperFlash embedded technology because SuperFlash offers several benefits for smart cards. It offers a smaller geometry, a key feature for space-constrained smart cards. It has higher reliability, which is important for storing the data. And it has a lower-electrical current, which is important in battery operated devices, such as mobile phones, which are using the SIM cards, said Stephen Johnston, product marketing manager.

Titanium has been designed to go after the SIM card market, which is the largest market segment within smart cards, Johnston said. It is also designed to simplify 3G USIM software design. The flash-based smart-card IC line is being supported by simulator development tools.

The one feature that makes Titanium different than competitive solutions, even the company's own Platinum product line, is the devices are purely 100% flash-memory based. The company arranged the hardware configuration into user configurable memory (UCM).

"The reason we've chosen pure flash memory is because it gives greater design flexibility by allowing one flash product to be used in multiple projects or for multiple customers," Johnston said. "It avoids locking the code into the device, which is the standard for masked ROM devices. It also lowers the design cost because we eliminate the mask-ROM charges, which can be anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 per mask layer."

The memory range for the product line ranges from 30-Kbytes to 230-Kbytes. The memory sizes are homogenous throughout the device. In the company's Platinum devices, there are two different flash areas. One had a very large page size, which was used for storing code.

"It wasn't very good at storing data because of the large page size," Johnston said. "With the Platinum products, they had an array of different page sizes."

With Titanium, the flash memory space is all one pageit's all 256-byte pages. The 256-byte UCM page is used to store code and data.

"The reason we've gone to a single page size is because it simplifies the hardware management of the code because the software does not need to worry about different memory areas," he said. "It could focus on one memory area. By only focusing one memory area, it provides some space savings for the code because it eliminates the other software that's needed for different memory types."

This allows for greater code flexibility because any page can be used to store both code and data, he said. The company is using an 8051, which is basically the standard in the smart-card market. It simplifies the porting of the code from previous devices to the Theseus Titanium, he said.

Johnston also added that the flash-based ICs offer faster time-to-market, because it allows smart card developers to have some sample cards on their desk, program them with code and immediately test them. "They don't have to wait for the silicon manufactured."

Once the code is approved, samples can be generated instantly and sent to the end customer for approval. When the end customer approves the card, he or she can take that code and move them into production immediately.

"So rather than waiting for the different stages of having the code built into the masked ROM silicon device, they are able to generate all that right on the developer's desktop. Because you're not then sending code around the world, it does provide higher levels of security in the system frame and within the device. Because flash uses an electronic storage mechanism, it avoids the physical vulnerabilities that are present in de-layering or reverse engineering masked ROM devices," he said.

The company also designed the line with an advanced boot loader, which is the code that loads the operating system onto the device. The boot loader is able to operate at 115-kilobaud. It provides greater security through an encryption algorithm and it also offers an ISO-compliant boot loader, which is then able to program the cards through a standard smart card reader.

The Theseus Titantium devices feature the Theseus Simulator, which integrates the Keil development environment. It also provides security functions such as code profiling and logical branch monitoring.

The Theseus Titanium devices in 30-Kbyte and 80-Kbyte densities are available now in production. In 10K-quantities, they cost 37 cents and 57 cents each, respectively.

"The devices have been designed for high-volume SIM card applications. We've picked the technology to shorter production and product development and lower inventory and non-refundable engineering costs. The flash memory makes code efficient, translating into more applications and data space. Any space saved in the code space can be given to the end user as data space. The more data space that's available, the more revenue network operators can expect. By making the code more cost effective, we're effectively giving network operators more revenue," Johnston said.

- Ismini Scouras


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