Chakravarthi M. G., Mobiveil Technologies India Pvt. Ltd.
The Silicon Intellectual Property (SIP) market has been long prevalent within the semiconductor industry. Among the IP offerings, Interface IPs, Processor IPs, and Memory IPs have a larger market share and are sought after by semiconductor companies from third party IP vendors. There is an increased need for IPs primarily for two reasons. Firstly, ready to integrate Silicon Proven IPs bring down the development timeline thereby accelerating the time to market. Secondly, when the customer wants to lower the development costs and the recurring expenditures, it is ideal to license IPs based on the usage. With many IP vendors in the market, the question is what really adds value to customers and help them choose the right vendor. How can an IP centric focus with services built around IPs can deliver value to customers?
SoCs are high complexity ICs that integrate Hardware and Software elements to achieve the optimum performance. The initial stage involves creation of Architecture and Specification, design partitioning and budgeting. This stage is largely handled by the customers and in coordination with their techno-marketing team, they decide on the features to be supported, window of production and release to market. The engineering and procurement team, depending on the internal expertise and funding, scope out the effort to meet the production timeline. The customer in partnership with EDA vendors, IP vendors, Design Services vendors, Foundry, Packaging and Assembly vendors develop their final product/chipset.
The obvious thought process behind choosing an IP is the “make vs. buy” criteria. So the question arises, why would the Electronic OEMs or IDMs decide to procure externally? The reasons are as follows:
- Lack of internal capabilities / Sharing risks
- Narrow time-to-market
- Budget constraints – Lower development/maintenance costs
- Better development infrastructure available outside
- Developing a niche focus internally
The IP vendor will bring the following value proposition to the table in relation to their ecosystem.
- Silicon proven – Customer references of mature production proven IPs
- Compliance testing – With test equipment vendors and VIP vendors
- Partnerships – with foundries (for libraries - in case of Hard IPs), with complementary vendors (for an integrated offering), with FPGA vendors (for prototype references)
- Alliances – with standard bodies, with EDA vendors (to comply with multiple tool chains)
The generic approach for semiconductor companies would be to identify the IP vendors for those reusable blocks and have the design services vendor front-end and coordinate with IP vendors to integrate the IPs in the design. A major issue encountered in such a case is the lack of IP knowledge of the design services vendor. The SoC intended to be developed will have multiple blocks that can be reused. It then becomes critical for the design services vendor to have knowledge of the IPs integrated as does the customer’s solution architect. Otherwise much time is spent over ramping up and increased coordination cycles with the IP vendor and their customer. This further delays the development timeline.
The ideal way to tackle this problem for semiconductor companies is to engage directly with the IP vendors who offer services around their IP offerings. This eliminates ramp up time spent due to the lack of domain/protocol knowledge and support issues encountered during integration. Creating an IP-able design block is no trivial effort. It is necessary to ensure that the design blocks created are configurable to suit different architectural considerations. The actual need for IP configurability is felt only at a later stage when a degree of optimization is needed for the design to either fit into the budgeted silicon footprint or meet the optimum performance level. This is best understood by IP vendors who have been in the business for years together and can help build IP-able blocks that are configurable thereby ensuring that delays during optimization can be avoided.
IP Enabled services
So how does IP enabled services bring value to customers?
- Customization Services – The IP vendors ensure that their IP meets specific implementation needs of the customer as they are fully aware of the benefits or limitations of their offering.
- Integration Services – With the right choice of interface and knowledge of functionality, the IP vendor can best help in making sure that the IP is interoperable with the other blocks it is associated with in the design
- Vertical knowledge based Value Added Services – The IPs are built with a broad understanding of the use cases and applications. This is evident from the whitepapers made available by the IP vendors. When an IP vendor operates in niche technology area, they bring the domain knowledge which is vital in offering ASIC/SoC design services for that particular application area
- Testing and Deployment – The knowledge of IP functionality helps immensely in Pre and Post Silicon validation testing to fix on-board related issues
- Support – This is one of the key aspects to consider when engaging with an IP vendor knowing that there is a long roadmap for the chipset solution. The IP vendor in this case will provide the updates during spec revisions or share the upgrades made to their IP cores.
In conclusion, the semiconductor companies find a strong need to identify the right IP vendors, who deliver superior value. The first step however is identifying the right IP, which is gauged in terms of maturity (vendor track record), quality, compliance and feature support, etc. Along with these if the IP vendor is able to provide value added services around their IP offerings in terms of integration, customization support, and domain knowledge, it then further helps the customer quickly and efficiently integrate the IPs to their design.
About the author:
Chakravarthi M. G. currently works for Mobiveil Technologies India Private Ltd. in Chennai. He manages the Marketing and Business Development for Mobiveil’s Silicon IP and Embedded system offerings. He has close to a decade of industry experience as an RTL design engineer, marketing specialist, and business development executive. He has worked companies like Broadcom, GDA Technologies, L&T Infotech and T&VS in the past. He holds a Masters degree from California State University at San Jose and an Executive diploma in Sales and Marketing from Indian Institute of Management Calcutta.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of his employer
This article was published in SiliconIndia magazine – India edition July 2013