Lowe said Freescale should not perceived in a similar light to European
chip companies NXP Semiconductor and Infineon Technologies AG that have
sold off significant parts of their businesses as part of restructuring
over recent years. Since Lowe took over the stewardship of Freescale Semiconductor Inc. 8 months ago the company has been refocused into five business units: analog and sensors; microcontrollers; automotive microcontrollers; digital networking; RF and other.
Lowe said the company was now in good shape to profit from forthcoming growth in embedded applications and the internet of things; from billions of wireless sensor leaf nodes served by physically small, ultra low power microcontrollers, through multiple layers of networking infrastructure and up to the cloud. Freescale is also able to serve that chain of information processing and connectivity in both general and automotive forms, Lowe said.
Lowe made the point that as embedded connectivity and the internet of things (IoT) grow demand for networking infrastructure and cloud data processing will also grow exponentially.
"The car is a great example of how things are progressing. It used to be a stand-alone system. Now we expect connection. For infotainment, and also things like radar activity, cars interacting with each other autonomously," said Lowe.
The five focus areas that Lowe has selected to drive Freescale into profit show a similar emphasis to processor licensor ARM at both the low-end, in terms of low-power microcontrollers for the Internet of Things, and at the high end where multiple companies are trying to break into networking and serving with ARM licenses. However, Freescale still has a commitment to the PowerPC architecture in both automotive processing and high-end networking.
"We've moved $25 million of R&D spending into these five areas. The percentage of R&D here was 69 percent and its now 82 percent. "I said we'd get to 90 percent in these areas by 2015 but I think we'll do it by early 2014. In digital networking we are the market leader, we have 50 percent market share."
Lowe added that although Freescale is often perceived as a digital company it analog, sensor and RF expertise and that this is an important complement to the microcontrollers and processors it supplies.
IEEE Computer Society of Santa Clara Valley presents on April 9th
"New ARM Architectures for Servers: 64 bit, Virtualization, and Energy Efficiency"
Speaker: Lakshmi Mandyam, Director of Server Systems and Ecosystem, ARM
Time: 6:30 PM (PT) Networking/Refreshments, 7:00 PM Presentation
Free, registration: http://sites.ieee.org/scv-cs/archives/new-arm-architectures-for-servers
Location: webcast (simulcast and on-demand), Cadence / Bldg 10, 2655 Seely Ave, San Jose, CA
This doesn't really come as a surprise. We can't know whether Freescale will succeed in the ARM server market, but they can't realistically stay *out* of it. There are too many markets Freescale would like to be in where ARM is the architecture of choice, and if they want a piece of that market they offer ARM cores.
Every ARM 50 licensee would have their eyes on this market. Other than AMD all the existing licensees have been embedded players so they are most likely intent on retaining or expanding their market share there. The server market is a huge lucrative space that they can target if that does take off so it appears to be a low risk approach.
The question on differentiation remains. In the embedded market that is in the SoC with the special accelerators etc. In the server space it is primarily about the CPU so while there will be slightly different variations to memory interfaces etc. they will most likely look alike. Which means the only differentiation will be on price - which makes the business folks at Dell/HP salivate at higher margins....
I'm happy to see Freescale adopting the ARM ISA. One of the best outcomes would be to see Freescale merging some of their more valuable "legacy" IP with the newer architectures. IMHO one of their best features was the Time Processor Unit (TPU) which was available on the ColdFire processors and was also brought into the PowerPC uCs. If you've ever tried to write and support a complex application using the generic ARM timer you'd understand how much code development it really takes. If Freescale decides to start designing ARM uCs (and especially in it intends to de-emphasize PowerPC for these applications) it needs to seriously consider integrating TPUs into such an architecture, both for new designs and to support legacy code bases to give them a reasonable "upgrade" path.