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Secure portable CEs with OTP memory

Posted: 16 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:OTP memory? flash technology? CE devices? OTP memory for CE? memory security?

Cheng: To maintain an edge in the highly competitive consumer marketplace, OTP memory should be inexpensive.

Many mobile consumer communications/entertainment devices have two things in common: the need to protect the digital content they handle, and a way to improve the analog circuits they use to enhance their wireless-communication and human-interface capabilities.

To lower cost and power consumption, manufacturers of portable CE products have concentrated on enhancing processor speed to handle more data, and on increasing the bandwidth of channels that bring information to and from the devices. But neither processor speed nor bandwidth addresses security-key storage issues or optimizes analog components such as analog displays and CMOS image sensors. Enter the one-time programmable (OTP) memory technology.

Say the word "memory" in the context of a portable consumer entertainment or communications device, and people immediately think of flash. But flash memory is expensive and lacks the necessary features for security-key storage that would address digital rights management (DRM) concerns.

There is a trade-off inherent in flash memory?reconfigurability means lower security and increased processing cost. The security issue makes flash a less-than-ideal medium for storing encryption keys and other information needed to protect digital content.

To maintain an edge in the highly competitive consumer marketplace, OTP memory should be inexpensive, adding little or no processing cost to the chip in which it is embedded. The memory must also be highly secure for DRM purposes, consume low power for handhelds and be field-programmable to trim (adjust the parameters of) analog components.

It is important for CE devices handling music and video streams to cut down on parts and costs in the DRM and analog-circuit areas. For DRM, security in porting content and confining that content to an authorized user is vital. This is often accomplished using a security-key system. It is critical for the content owner to protect those keys, since unauthorized content use means lost revenue.

Flash technology is prone to theft, since hackers can use voltage contrast or other scanning techniques to read its content. But certain OTP memory technologies are extremely resistant to unauthorized access, making them ideal for DRM key storage. If the OTP memory is field-programmable, which eliminates ROM or fuses as viable technology candidates, the OEM vendor can set security keys before sale, or they may even be set afterwards.

Analog circuits used by handhelds to enhance wireless-communication and human-interface capabilities are a critical part of today's CE. Adjusting analog components in RF radios, displays and image sensors is important for CE products, since these components' yield has a large impact on OEM product profit margin.

Normal variation in RF circuits and among individual cells in a sensor or LCD array must fall within an acceptable range or the component cannot be used. Field-programmable OTP memory provides a way to increase the yield of CMOS image sensors and LCDs. And OTP memory allows a higher percentage of these components to be used, lowering the cost of the final product.

Content protection and post-process analog cost cutting are increasingly important in CE devices. Chip developers who want to handle these requirements cost-effectively must rethink the types of memory IP they use.

- Pearl Cheng
VP of Engineering, Kilopass Technology Inc.

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