ROCHESTER, N.Y. ParthusCeva Inc. has licensed elements of the Prism 802.11a, .11b and .11g wireless local-area network chip sets from Intersil Corp. and plans to offer them as licensable intellectual property for system-on-chip designs.
As interest in WLAN technology grows worldwide, chip and system companies are looking for new ways to embed 802.11 functionality into their designs. Integration of WLAN features has moved from the system level to the chip level, and is now making a further step to intellectual property (IP) blocks. Several companies already offer some flavor of 802.11 cores.
NewLogic Technologies (Lustenau, Austria) offers 802.11a and .11b modem cores, plus .11a, .11b and .11g media-access controller (MAC) cores and a dual-mode IP core for 802.11a, .11b designs as part of its Wild (wireless LAN IP for LSI designs) family.
Netcleus Systems Corp. (Fijisawa, Japan) offers a WLAN IP core consisting of an 802.11 MAC and .11a Verilog source code. And eInfochips Ltd. (Ahmedabad, India) offers a soft-core 802.11b MAC.
"More than half of the WLAN business will be SoCs [systems-on-chip] in the next three to four years," said Kevin Fielding, chief executive officer of Parthus-Ceva (San Jose, Calif.).
Company seeks partner
With the market's shift to 802.11 cores in mind, ParthusCeva began working with Intersil to turn portions of the popular Prism chip set and software into licensable IP, Fielding said. Under the companies' agreement, Intersil is licensing its baseband and ARM9-based MAC technology to ParthusCeva. In turn, ParthusCeva will adapt this technology into a platform that can be applied across multiple chip designs and process technologies.
Intersil has made several earlier attempts to license its IP to semiconductor vendors. Under a licensing pact with Conexant Systems Inc. announced in 2002, Conexant was to embed Intersil's baseband and MAC technology into its digital subscriber line chip set for modems and routers.
But Intersil's IP-licensing plans became a challenge when it realized each customer wanted a different version of the IP, said Tim Muth, an Intersil vice president. And Intersil did not have the infrastructure in place to support IP licensing. "We realized this could be a big resource draw," Muth said.
Instead of investing to support IP licensing, Intersil searched for a partner to pursue its licensing strategy, which led it to ParthusCeva. The latter company has experience developing IP platforms for wireless markets, having put together platforms for both the 3G wireless and Bluetooth sectors. The company had also been doing some work in the 802.11 area, Muth said.
ParthusCeva also thought it would be stronger with a more established partner. "We've had great success with Bluetooth, and 802.11 looked like a natural successor," Fielding said.
But ParthusCeva found differences in the WLAN world, Fielding said. A number of legacy systems were already on the market, and ParthusCeva's customers demanded that any WLAN solution be interoperable with legacy systems. "We have to prove that our technology is compatible with the de facto systems on the market," Fielding said.
Through Intersil, ParthusCeva gains access to one of the market's leading WLAN radios, Fielding said. In addition, Intersil's work on the IEEE's 802.11 standards committee will help its efforts to provide interoperable solutions in emerging 802.11g and .11a designs.
While the ParthusCeva agreement could extend Intersil's position in the WLAN chip market, Intersil will also let ParthusCeva license its 802.11 firmware to customers in the form of object code. "This could be the most valuable part of the IP offering," Fielding said.
On the RF front, ParthusCeva will refer customers to Intersil's existing radio offerings. Designers can bolt on their own radios, but Muth said designers will obtain the best performance by working with Intersil's RF chips.
ParthusCeva plans to have its Intersil-enabled WLAN offering available in the second quarter. The company hopes to see its IP embedded into customer designs by the end of the year, Fielding said.
ParthusCeva will handle all sales and marketing of the IP, and Intersil will receive a portion of the licensing and royalty fees. Specific financial terms were not disclosed.