Qualcomm licenses USB chip interface
The news comes at a time when the MIPI Alliance, an ad hoc group developing mobile chip interfaces, is months away from releasing a new spec that will upgrade an existing 200 Mbit/s link to hit data rates from 1 to 2.9 GHz. Mobile chip makers have broadly adopted the group’s camera and display interfaces, but not the 200 Mbit/s interconnect about to get the upgrade.
The deal with Qualcomm and another chip maker is a sign of market traction for USB "not only as an external bus but also more and more for internal connectivity because there are so many peripherals that want a standard protocol and class drivers," said Robert Hollingsworth, a senior vice president at SMSC.
SMSC developed the ICC technology (which is part of the High Speed Inter-Chip or HSIC standard) in 2006, but only put together in June 2010 a formal licensing program for the patent behind it. Synopsys has IP for the interconnect although it has not taken a license with SMSC.
The USB Implementers Forum was working on a variant of the technology that would have supported both USB versions 2.0 and 1.1. But the group disbanded the effort about three weeks ago after both Qualcomm and Intel exited the working group.
A spokeswoman for the USB-IF did not return a request for information for this story.
Previously, only MCCI, a test systems company, took a license with SMSC for ICC. It has sold more than ten protocol analyzers for the ICC spec to date "which is interesting because we haven’t sold more than ten [ICC] licensees," said Hollingsworth.
Marvell has advertised ICC functionality on one of its chips, Freescale has discussed supporting the link as part of its road map and a Texas Instruments data sheet mentions the technology but says the related chip does not conform to the details of the spec. None of the three companies has an SMSC license, Hollingsworth said.
SMSC hopes the broad desire for saving power will help it eventually expand the technology from mobile to fixed systems. The company licenses the technology free to host processor and SoC makers, but charges a $100,000 one-time fee for companies that want to use it in peripheral chips.
The company aims to make most of its money on ICC not from licensing but from making its own ICC-based peripheral chips, Hollingsworth said.
MIPI on the rise
According to a recent research report from market watcher IPNest, 700 million MIPI-powered integrated circuits will be in production in 2010, with projected growth to 6.2 billion units by 2015. The firm bullishly believes MIPI will grow from use in about a quarter of all mobile chip sets last year to virtually all mobile chips in 2014.
The rollout later this year of MIPI’s so-called Low Latency Interface will be a big factor in the uptake of its specs beyond cameraphone and display chips. LLI uses a so-called M-Phy, a physical layer technology said to be more power efficient than PCI Express and ultimately capable of data rates beyond 5 Gbits/s.
The M-Phy also uses an embedded clock to eliminate need for external clock devices, said Brian Carlson, MIPI vice chairman and a OMAP-5 product manager at Texas Instruments.
MIPI has been developing specifications since it began working on a camera interface in 2005. It now has 200 members and specs defining nearly every chip interface in a mobile system.
Intel, Texas Instruments, ST Ericsson, STMicroelectronics and Samsung are MIPI’s most active chip members. Handset makers Nokia, Research in Motion and Samsung have also been active in the group, and LG and HTC recently joined MIPI.
Interestingly Qualcomm also joined MIPI last year after a long history of developing its own chip interfaces. Freescale has not been a contributing member. Renesas and Nvidia have played relatively limited roles in the group so far.