NEW YORK MIPS Technologies Inc. plans to move its 32-bit RISC processor architecture into the smart card, wireless communication and e-commerce markets through a development agreement with Gemplus S.A. (Gemenos, France), a smart card provider.
Under the agreement, the companies will co-develop a MIPS architecture called SmartMIPS for smart cards, and a low-power, high-performance 32-bit SmartMIPS core based on the MIPS32 architecture.
SmartMIPS will support Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java Card and Microsoft Corp.'s Smart Card for Windows operating systems, and the architecture will be available for license to semiconductor and system companies. MIPS Technologies and Gemplus will work with one or more silicon partners to manufacture a family of smart card chips based on the new core. Commercial silicon based on the core is expected within 18 months, the companies said.
John Hall, vice president of European operations for MIPS Technologies (Mountain View, Calif.), said the company's engineering team based in Copenhagen, Denmark will develop extensions to the existing MIPS32 architecture to address smart card functionality, while Gemplus will provide the operating system and application layering. The MIPS32 extensions will boost performance so that the SmartMIPS core does not require an on-chip coprocessor to support advanced cryptography. However, the SmartMIPS core will have the ability to link to coprocessors from MIPS or third parties, Hall said, to support applications outside of smart cards in the digital consumer and automotive markets. MIPS Technologies envisions the SmartMIPS core finding use in areas requiring online access and identification, such as set-top boxes and home servers, Hall said.
MIPS Technologies said it expects the Gemplus agreement will give it a leg up in the growing worldwide smart card market, which ship ped over 1.5 billion units in 1999. The SmartMIPS architecture and core will play in the MPU-based card market, which is projected to grow 60 percent annually in the United States and 40 percent worldwide over the next five years. The majority of existing smart cards are memory cards or MPU-based cards with 4-bit or 8-bit processors. But the smart card industry is shifting to 32-bit RISC processors to add multiple applications and advanced security technology for banking, health, e-commerce and mobile communication applications.
By 2003, the MPU-based card market will reach 2 billion units worldwide, analysts said.
"With that kind of volume," Hall said, "we foresee exciting opportunities for our royalty-based business if we're successful."
SmartMIPS could propel MIPS processors into markets where they haven't previously succeeded, such as mobile communications, e-commerce. It could also open the door to participation in the market for subscriber identity module (SIM) cards for GSM mobile phones, which are currently the largest consumer of MPU-based smart cards.
Christina Kasica, senior consultant for Ovum Inc. (London), said the development of a 32-bit MIPS processor for smart cards is important because it will provide more power for smart cards, a historical weakness.
Once offered as solutions themselves, smart cards are becoming "modular component ware" that a consumer can use to access the Internet, or wireless and broadcast networks through a host of digital devices, Kasica said.