Electronic Design

USB Connectivity Lays Broad Foundation For Growth

It seemed like a flashback to the days of "irrational exuberance" when I attended the Nasdaq opening ceremonies in Times Square recently. Perhaps it was the palpable hype surrounding the imminent Google IPO or the seemingly unstoppable flow of earnings growth reports coming from the semiconductor marketplace. It really did feel a bit like those giddy dot-com days of yore.

The air of euphoria at the tech market's broadcast studio was fueled by the hot television lights, a broadcast feed to CNN and TV stations around the globe, and by having our applauding images projected onto the "world's largest video screen" on the front of the Nasdaq building in Times Square.

But unlike the bubble days, when hype built on more hype, this was a celebration with some substance underneath. In fact, the morning's theme was one of surviving the hype implosion, of not only weathering but prospering during the storm. The market-opening honors went to SMSC, formerly Standard Microsystems Corp., which was taking advantage of the invitation from Nasdaq to unveil the new SMSC branding.

SMSC has been listed on the Nasdaq market for more than 20 years. During the recent industry downturn, the fabless semiconductor supplier managed to diversify and reshape its business, growing its annual product revenues at more than 20% per year during this worst-ever downcycle.

The company's success story is about anticipating and innovating at the front end of electronic design trends. SMSC has focused on advanced I/O interfaces for computing platform solutions, networking products such as Ethernet and ARCNET for embedded applications, and system-level semiconductor solutions incorporating USB 2.0 and other high-speed serial interfaces. The company portfolio also includes some serious intellectual property, with more than 40,000 patents as well as licensees and partners like Intel and Lucent.

Speaking of design trends, red-hot USB technology was one of the growth drivers that stood out in the SMSC presentation following the opening ceremony. The company's USB sales more than tripled in its last fiscal year, and SMSC estimates a cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) for USB 2.0 of 125% over the next several years! This growth stems from USB's ubiquity in consumer electronics, multimedia computing, and mobile storage markets. For example, SMSC provides flash media card readers and hub solutions that enable easy connection of digital cameras with PCs, printers, and set-top boxes. The company also is working on low-power transceiver and bridge products used with MP3 and other media players.

With today's myriad flash-card formats, SMSC has found strong demand for multiformat card readers united by the USB 2.0 interface. As floppy drives have gone away, the multicard reader slots have become a popular option on PCs. Now, says SMSC, the multicard slots are becoming standard on the new generation of PCs. SMSC's latest rendition is a 9-in-1 card reader that accepts nine different flash-card formats, including three different memory sticks.

USB ON-THE-GO
Fueling even greater growth for USB chips is the rollout of products based on the USB On-The-Go (OTG) standard. It enables portable devices to connect directly to one another using the USB ports without connection to a host PC. An obvious example is the use of the OTG protocol to allow for transfer of digital camera images directly to a printer. When dual-role OTG devices are connected, the USB cable defines default host and default peripheral roles to the devices. Or if the application requires that the roles be reversed, the Host Negotiation Protocol (HNP) provides a handshake to establish appropriate protocols, all transparent to the user.

Philips Semiconductors has been a key player in the development of USB OTG, building on the expectation that with the boom of connected consumer devices, OTG will transform PDAs, digital cameras, and smartphones into centers of connectivity. For more USB On-The-Go, visit www.elecdesign.com and enter "USB OTG" into the search window to see recent news and product announcements like Philips' family of Hi-Speed USB OTG solutions. Also, check out the USB OTG-related Design View we published last July at ED Online 5331. Or, visit usb.org/developers/onthego/.

Those of you working on new products incorporating USB OTG are creating true growth drivers for the next generation of electronics and, by extension, for Nasdaq and the world economy. That's growth built on a foundation of real innovation, not hype, and something to be proud of.

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