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MIPS set to crack ARM-dominated mobile market

Posted: 04 May 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile handset market? IP core? baseband? processor?

A little more than six months ago, MIPS Technologies Inc.'s goal to take a slice of the ARM-dominated mobile handset market seemed to be the proverbial impossible dreamat least in the eyes of most industry analysts.

Today, while the goal still remains ambitious, MIPS has proven that the dream could actually come true. The processor IP core company it has landed a major cellular baseband/application chip company based in Asia.

Sandeep Vij, MIPS CEO, is not saying who the customer is. But he acknowledged that the deal represents MIPS' first win on the cellphone market, displacing ARM as the processor IP core. The unnamed customer based in Asia "has licenses for both ARM and MIPS," and it chose MIPS over ARM for its future 3G basebands/application processors, explained Vij in an interview with EE Times at the Embedded Systems Conference.

While MIPS' so-called "anchor licensee in Asia" remains a mystery, Gary Mobley, senior analyst at Benchmark, speculated in his research note: "Our best guess is that it's either Renesas (1 percent share of baseband market), Mediatek (15 percent share), NEC (2 percent share) or Spreadtrum (less than 1 percent share)."

Mobley further noted, "This win, combined with the Beceem win, could eventually give MIPS at least a 2 percent to 4 percent market share within the cellular baseband market within the 2011 time frame." He added, "While 2 percent to 4 percent market share does not sound like a lot, the cellular baseband chip market is a $10 billion market opportunity, implying at least a 10 percent boost to existing royalties."

According to Mobley, MIPS' third quarter resultsannounced this weekfinally hit the license revenue forecast. MIPS reported Q3 FY10 revenue of $17.5 millionincreased 15 percent sequentially, with license and royalty revenue up 42 percent and 6 percent q-on-q, respectively.

Ready to switch?
The market is ripe for change on mobile handset's processor IP cores, according to Vij. "When everyone is making similar products using the similar core, many on the market are hungry for change."

Customers can be persuaded to switch vendors for two reasons: differentiable solutions and price. "With MIPS core, we believe we offer highly differentiated solutions to customers," said Vij.

So, what's on MIPS' playbook to win mobile sockets?

In Vij's mind, MIPS' multithreading architecture is the best leverage to replace its competitors' cores. "Mobile phones today offer so many features beyond just being phones," said Vij. "You need to send multiple instructions threaded in multiple streams to run multiple applications."

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