SAN JOSE, Calif. Responding to new third-generation wireless standards, Motorola, Infineon Technologies and Texas Instruments last week unveiled a series of faster, more efficient digital signal processors for use in such applications as cell phones, modems, home theaters, set-top boxes and digital cordless phones.
Industry consultants at the Embedded Processor Forum noted that those applications may represent only the tip of the iceberg. "The DSP market is booming," said Jeff Bier, general manager of Berkeley Design Technology Inc. (Berkeley, Calif.). "And if it continues to grow 10 percent faster than the rest of the semiconductor market, then its annual growth rate will be twice that of the rest of the market within seven years."
Semiconductor makers said at the forum that third-generation (3G) wireless standards set by the International Telecommunications Union are a driving force behind the architecture of the new DSPs. Motorola I nc., for example, introduced a customizable 3G platform that includes a 200-MHz StarCore SC140 DSP, a 100-MHz M340-16 microcontroller and a 100-MHz Inter-Processor Communications Module. Motorola engineers said that the low-power operation and high performance of the StarCore SC140, along with embedded memory, are key for wireless applications.
"Memory technology is increasing at a much slower rate than Moore's Law," said Paul McAlinden of Motorola. "So memory is playing a more and more important role."
Infineon Technologies' new Carmel DSP2000 has also been specifically designed for 3G applications. The device employs a 300-MHz digital signal processor and so-called "PowerPlug modules," which provide application-specific performance boosts for video, audio and modems.
For its part, Texas Instruments Inc. announced a new C64X programmable DSP that will double the number of register files used in its predecessors and employ common instructions to enhance its operating performance. "With the C64X family, we will be doing a gigahertz within two years," said Jeremiah Golston, who works with C600SW applications at TI (Dallas).
Experts say that continuing innovations in DSP technology are necessary to meet the requirements of new wireless technologies, since conventional microcontrollers don't lend themselves to the streaming-data characteristics of wireless products. Wireless performance requirements set forth by the ITU call for data rates of 144 kbits/second at mobile speeds, 384 kbits/s at pedestrian speeds and 2 Mbits/s in a stationary environment. "Other than DSP, there's almost no other way to get data bits into the airwaves and back again that fast," said Bier. "It's a fundamental concept."
And today's processors aren't yet up to the task of handling the highest-performance wireless systems without help. "Even though these processors are superpowerful, they're still well short of handling the complete application," Bier said. "So in the near future, they are going to have to use these pr ocessors along with hardwired coprocessors to implement 3G wireless."
Vendors say it may take as long as three years before DSPs that can do the job alone reach the market.