In today's market, the availability of high-performance programmable DSP IP has recently become a reality. This development will forever alter the traditional order of power in the high-volume, high-dollar market for DSP-based systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), estimated at over $6 billion in 2001. At last, programmable DSP IPs are poised to launch an assault on the traditional design wins and supply chain for DSPs. ARM and MIPS, dominant suppliers of 32-bit RISC controllers, together accounted for nearly 500 million units in 2000.
Just five years ago, the combined volume of ARM and MIPS was less than 20 million units in a 32-bit RISC controller market dominated by Motorola and Intel. A few short years later, Motorola, TI, Intel, and over 35 additional vendors have taken a license to ARM. Plus, more than 15 others are MIPS licensees. Large OEMs like Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco, Nintendo, and Sony have come to realize their SoC supply chain is much more competitive when multiple IC vendors have access to the same IP (32-bit RISC controllers). This way, vendors must compete for the business of these OEMS based on considerations other than their being a sole source.
Gone will be the days when a single IC vendor could dominate a large-volume processor-based market. More experienced OEMs aren't about to let that happen. This is made apparent by the fact that many of them have adopted ARM in digital cellular applications and MIPS in networking and console gaming areas.
Traditional, vertically integrated IC suppliers used to be the ideal. But they were forced to make room for the fabless model, as independent foundry services became accessible. Sophisticated independent IC design services then became largely offered, along with independently available IP. At this point, the traditional single supply chain composed three distinct pieces—IP, IC design services, and wafer fabrication services.
This led to specialization and tremendous progress. OEMs and traditional IC vendors have come to rely on a whole new industry created by better tools and design services techniques. Fabrication costs plummeted. And, IP vendors developed highly reusable IP blocks as well as advanced methodologies and tools for integrating them. OEMs now either have an entirely new supply chain or they can source a piece of it, such as the IP, through their traditional IC supplier.
With the widely available best-in-class IP, SoC chip, designers can quickly and competitively create the tens of millions of transistors required for an SoC. There's now an explosion in 32-bit controller IPs. Many firms also are amassing vast libraries of other building-block IPs like bus interfaces, analog components, and I/O peripherals. The missing piece, until recently, has been high-performance programmable DSP IP, crucial for current and next-generation, high-volume, processor-based SoCs.
Recently, a new class of high-performance programmable IP vendors has emerged to fill this growing need. This will finally enhance the supply chain for OEMs and enable a new class of DSP-based SoCs, which are needed for the highest-volume embedded applications.
To be competitive today, many products are forced to integrate further at the chip level. Since most OEMs haven't built a core competency around designing and building ICs, they rely heavily on their SoC IC suppliers.
Someday, OEMs of DSP-based SoCs will no longer be forced to buy in bundles from a single supplier. When they're allowed once again to select the best-in-class of each piece of the supply chain, the effect will be enormous. They'll have a healthier, more competitive supply chain, better costs, and the ability to build better products.