East was asked how ARM continues to remain focused on the design needs of its partners now that it is expanding rapidly into new sectors that require different expertise than its traditional domain of mobile phones. ARM IP is in servers, myriad consumer products, automotive and is now headed towards the Internet of Things.
"The real answer is it is hard. It's about execution, But it's what we do," East said. Some things help such as the work with the Linaro organization to create open-source software to sit on ARM cores for mobile phones, which is now being replicated in the server space, he said. "We're re-using the ecosystem for servers that we have used for mobile phones," said East.
ARM also has an internal platform approach in which the company effectively mocks up what it imagines to be a particular type of system of the future and can do so for different markets, such as a "superphone" or specialist server. ARM does this in consultation with its semiconductor partners to help it make decisions as to how to make performance-power trade offs for its forthcoming cores and decisions on memory layout and connections.
"We have created an ARM platform made of test chips and so on. It's not suitable for sale but it helps us understand memory architecture, low power and so on. It's only by building real things that you can understand that stuff," said East. It is understood that a particular mobile platform build is being planned for 2013 around ARM's expected first silicon of the Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53.
Shifting back to ARM's just-announced endorsement of the Weightless standard, East was asked whether the proposal was broad enough to cover all or most eventualities for machine-to-machine communications. "We get behind standards where they can reduce market friction but we are not afraid to be agnostic. East was also asked whether Weightless, originally drafted by Cambridge startup Neul Ltd., and now backed by ARM, CSR plc, Neul and Cable & Wireless is too much focused in the U.K.
"I did want Microsoft and Qualcomm to be part of the announcement," said East. He added that talks on forming special interest groups can take time and in this case it was decided it was better to get something going rather than wait.
East said that if it turns that another group is formed, on different technology or geographic lines, then at least the IoT universe would have been reduced from an enormous number of proprietary solutions to a just two sets of standards, which would still be a tremendous win for the industry.
No doubt that the number of solutions has to be reduced in the IoT universe, but there will still be a need for a flexible technology that will be able to address different standards, or at least one standard which requires flexibility. Dedicated hard wired solutions for modem signal processing won't offer this flexibility, and there is space for new IP providers who could be the equivalent of ARM in embedded DSP, like Simpulse (www.simpulse.fr). They offer a flexible and scalable coprocessor that can be programmed at a Matlab-like language level. This kind of solution will definitely be a key feature for future machine-to-machine communication.