We have seen that the interface IP category is seeing incredibly high growth rate over the last two decades and we expect this category to generate an ongoing high source of IP revenues for at least another decade. But if we dig into the various successful protocols like PCI Express, Ethernet or USB, we can detect a common function in the Physical (PHY) part, the Serializer/Deserializer (SerDes) function.
In 1998, advanced interconnects used in telecom application were based on 622 MHz LVDS I/O. Telecom chip makers were building huge chips integrating 256 LVDS I/O running at 622 MHz to support Networking fabric. Today, advanced PAM4 SerDes run at 112 Gbps; over a single connection to support 100G Ethernet. In twenty years, SerDes technology efficiency jumped by a factor of 180-times! If we make a quick comparison with CPU technologies. In 1998 Intel released the Pentium II Dixon processor, whose frequency was 300 MHz. In 2018, an Intel Core i3 run at 4 GHz. CPU frequencies have grown by a factor of 15 times over a span of twenty years while SerDes speeds have exploded by by a factor of 180-times.
SerDes are now used in many more application than just telecom, to interface chips and systems. At the end of the 2000’s, smartphones integrated USB3, SATA and HDMI interfaces, while Telecom and PC/server integrated both PCIe and Ethernet. These trends resulted in the interface IP market to become a sizeable IP category growing above $200 million at that time. It was small compared to the CPU category, which was four or five times larger. But, since 2010, the interface category has seen at least 15%, year over year. It was the fastest growing category compared with all other semiconductor IP categories, such as CPU, GPU, DSP, Library, etc. The reason is directly linked with the number of connected devices growing every year, each exchanging more data (more movie, pictures, etc.). Connectivity is the beginning of the chain of communication, to the internet modem or base station, Ethernet switch and the datacenter network.
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