Update: Lattice Semiconductor to Acquire SiliconBlue (Dec 09, 2011)
By Denny Steele, SiliconBluemobilehandsetdesignline.com (November 02, 2008)
Today a new generation of low-power FPGAs is enabling a new breed of handset designers to create handsets with features bounded only by imagination. Here's why.
You may be surprised to learn that programmable logic use in handsets has been increasing over the past ten years. This long history of use in handsets may not be common knowledge, but its effect on the programmable logic industry is clearly visible. Every major programmable logic vendor now has some form of low-power offering targeting the space. In addition, for the first time in two decades, a completely new FPGA company has been formed for the sole purpose of servicing low-power programmable logic users. How did PLDs find their way into handsets? In the late '90s, programmable logic was used in the several PDA designs. Use continued as PDAs morphed first into PDA phones and later into smartphones. Today, programmable logic can be found not only in high-end smartphones, but in many mainstream handsets as well.
Since it is widely recognized that handsets have very difficult product constraints and rapidly evolving market conditions, a logical question is why would someone design programmable logic into this type of price-sensitive, high-volume consumer product? The answer to this question is found in the handset designer's environment and challenges.
Convergence, ambiguity, and short product development cycles dominate the environment
Over the past ten years, handsets have experienced extreme levels of convergence. Is the device primarily a phone, a PDA, a camera, an MP3 player, a GPS unit, an email conduit, or an Internet browser?
This list grows daily. The process of merging all of these functions, into products that can work within the disparate phone standards of multiple countries is full of ambiguity. In addition, handset designers have little time. Ranging from six months in the fast moving Asian countries, to twenty four months in North America, handsets experience some of the shortest life cycles of any consumer electronic products.
These short product life cycles translate into short product development cycles for handset designers.
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