Motorola Inc.'s Semiconductor Products Sector (SPS) this week will launch a new attack on the wireless infrastructure market using a reconfigurable architecture it bills as an alternative to traditional ASIC and DSP approaches.
The technology, to be unveiled at Motorola's Smart Networks Devel-oper Forum (SNDF) here, could help blunt a strong offensive begun by Texas Instruments Inc. 18 months ago, and pre-empt other reconfigurable products being readied.
In addition, SPS this week will reveal new software for its C-Port network processors for wireless network interface linecards, a reference platform for DSL residential gateways, and a development kit for voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) enterprise applications.
Arif Ahmed, manager of strategic marketing at SPS in Austin, Texas, said the company will demonstrate development tools and silicon at SNDF based on its reconfigurable compute fabric (RCF) technology. Combined with its StarCore DSP, the RCF will provide flexibility and support not found in ASIC-based designs, and roadmap and software development support not available in other reconfigurable architectures, Ahmed claimed.
"The idea is to find the right balance for infrastructure baseband processing, and it has taken us months to do all the analysis," he said. "A key is, we will be providing a complete solution--not just a reconfigurable processor, but comprehensive support."
The RCF uses technology licensed from Morpho Technologies, an Irvine, Calif., company in which Moto-rola made an equity investment last October.
Ahmed said SPS looked at several providers of reconfigurable core technology, but settled on Morpho "because we wanted to be able to influence the technology and be able to make changes in a short period."
ASICs are not programmed to accommodate changes inherent in wireless applications, and FGPAs are cost prohibitive, Ahmed said.
A number of other companies are also targeting reconfigurable approaches for wireless infrastructure, including PicoChip Designs Ltd., Bath, England. In February, PicoChip began sampling its first device, the PC101, which uses an array of 430 16-bit processors.
Infineon Technologies A.G. earlier this month announced that its subsid-iary, Infineon Technologies North America Corp., was acquiring the assets of MorphICs Technology Inc., a start-up in Campbell, Calif., that has developed what it calls configurable circuits for wireless basestations.
Ahmed believes SPS' approach is a strong contender because it combines both a standard DSP and reconfigurable processing array, rather than being a pure reconfigurable approach.
TI claims it has design wins with eight of the top 10 suppliers of 3G infrastructure equipment. Its existing offering combines the TMS320C64x DSP with a customer-specific ASIC.
Sandeep Kumar, wireless infrastructure strategic marketing manager at TI, said the company has studied several reconfigurable architectures, "and although they have a lot of promise, they just aren't ready for prime time.
"These architectures are still fairly immature," Kumar said. "From a bill of materials point of view, the power and cost of reconfigurable solutions are pretty much a show stopper at this point."
Tan Rao, chipset marketing manager and systems architecture manager at TI, said "basestation manufacturers would clearly like to move away from ASIC-dominated designs," and that is why TI introduced in February a solution that combines its DSP with two ASSPs that are dedicated to perform chip rate processing but are more flexible than ASICs.
Will Strauss, an analyst at Forward Concepts Co., Tempe, Ariz., said the SPS approach is the first reconfigurable offering "from a major basestation chip supplier, and is the most ambitious offering I've seen out of Motorola this year. They're demonstrating some renewed vigor."
Strauss said that SPS, along with Agere Systems Inc., had been the leading supplier of DSPs to the basestation market until TI pushed ahead during the transition to 3G equipment. But while TI may have a significant number of design wins, they have yet to translate that into volume orders, he said.
Kumar said TI has already completed two rounds of design and code development for its architecture, "and our customers have built a code base they will want to take advantage of. It's not easy to start from scratch."
Ahmed said SPS' RCF is already "getting requests like no other device we have seen before. You can use numbers in a lot of ways, but we are already a significant player in 3G," he said. "We're being evaluated by OEMs."
Ahmed added that start-ups proposing reconfigurable approaches may find a cold shoulder when visiting OEMs like Nokia and Ericsson. "They don't know how long these companies will last, but when we come in with our solution, it's a different story," he said.
SPS plans in June to announce specific ICs using RCF, but Ahmed declined to project when the devices might be used in OEM equipment.