LONDON --As it moves to strengthen its grasp on thewireless-phone market, ARM Ltd. is also breaking into newdigital-communications applications through a series of technology introductions and industry alliances.
A recent licensing agreement with cell-phone maker LM Ericsson, another today with consumer electronics manufacturer Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., and a separate deal with multimedia software developer PacketVideo Corp. highlight ARM's plan to simultaneously drive deeper into its core market and create new opportunity in other mobile sectors.
Moreover, ARM, the Cambridge, England-based microprocessor designer, has launched the latest member of its ARM9 Thumb family, a lower-power, less-expensive alternative known as the ARM922T core. The 32-bit RISC processor macrocell combines the ARM9TDMI CPU core with 8-Kbit instruction and 8-Kbit data caches, instruction and data-memory management units, a write buffer, an AMBA bus interface, and an e mbedded trace-macrocell interface.
The aim is to offer systems developers the same performance as the ARM920 core when addressing price- and power-sensitive architectures that run portable applications such as MP3 audio, Java, voice recognition, and MPEG-4 video. The core was developed for customers requiring a memory-management unit capable of running high-level operating systems like EPOCH, Linux, or Windows CE but who wanted a smaller die area, according to Steve Evans, ARM's vice president of sales in Europe.
"With the 922, what we're really doing is extending what we offer to customers by adding effectively a smaller cache version of the ARM920," Evans said. "The ARM920 virtually has a 16-Kbit instruction cache and 16-Kbit data cache, and with the 922 we've reduced those sizes down to 8-Kbit instruction and 8-Kbit data cache, which gives a smaller die-size option to address applications that have lower performance requirements than the ARM920."
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) in Hsinchu, Taiwan, was the first foundry to license the new core, although no customers for the device were disclosed.
ARM hopes the 922 will pad its position in the market for 32-bit and denser microprocessor cores. The company last year held a leading 61% share of the market and saw its cores used in all of Nokia Corp.'s mobile phones and about half of those made by Ericsson, according to analysts with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. in London.
ARM's latest offering is readying the company both for next-generation 2.5G cell phones -- scheduled to appear in Europe at the beginning of next year -- as well as the follow-on 3G phones, which are expected to roll out in Europe in 2002, featuring higher bandwidth and Bluetooth technology, said Doug Smith, an analyst at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Inc. in New York.
"ARM is setting a roadmap for future technologies that are important for customers," Smith said. "Those include 3G phones and other digital devices, many of which will be incorpo rated into mobile phones."
ARM's Evans believes the market for cell phones will continue to grow to 2004 and beyond. "What you're seeing is more capabilities added into cell phones," he said.
This week, ARM signed an agreement with Swedens Ericsson Microelectronics AB in Stockholm to license the ARM7TDMI core for Ericsson's communication products, including wireless, networking, and other non-wireless communication products, such as broadband networking (see July 31 story).
In a separate deal, Sanyo today licensed the ARM7TDMI and ARM7TDMI-S cores for use in its standard microprocessor and ASIC devices to target applications including PC peripherals, digital cameras, multimedia devices, portable phones, and mobile information terminals. Sanyo also licensed the ARM embedded trace macrocell (ETM7) for advanced system-on-chip debug, which it will use for its new flash microcontrollers and other ARM7TDMI-core-based solutions (see today's story).
These agreements are part of ARM's latest move to expand outside the wireless arena and into other segments, including automotive, printers, and cameras, "which will give us quite a broad market spread," Evans said.
As part of that diversification, ARM recently collaborated with wireless multimedia software and services provider, PacketVideo in San Diego, to deploy wireless multimedia services and applications worldwide. Under an agreement, PacketVideo's wireless video-decoder software will run on all ARM microprocessor cores.
"Consumers are demanding increased functionality, including Internet access, from their handheld devices," said Dave Walsh, ARM's applications software business manager. "But as the Internet is more than just data, ARM partners are requiring software-based MPEG-4 applications optimized for their platforms."
ARM's ability to recognize and adopt technologies for emerging applications continu es to be its major strength, according to Sean Murphy, senior analyst at Nomura International plc. in London. "And the niches they've been serving have been amongst the fastest growing, such as mobile-processor-intensive devices, like Palm Pilots and mobile phones," Murphy said.
Long design cycles associated with many of the markets ARM is targeting outside wireless have kept the company from realizing appreciable sales in these areas until recently, according to Evans. "We're already seeing more sales into areas such as networking, for example," he said.
With half-year revenue of $66.7 million, a 62% year-over-year increase, ARM's growth has so far been organic, Evans noted. "We haven't necessarily diversified our business models," Evans said. "It's more applications, because we don't want to be just standing on one leg."