MADISON, Wis. ó Ceva Inc. disclosed on Tuesday, August 13 that it has signed Chinese telecom equipment supplier ZTE as a new licensee for its Ceva-XC DSP core. ZTE's microelectronics division will be using Ceva's DSP to design LTE TDD/FDD multi-mode SoCs to power its upcoming base stations for the global market.
The announcement offers a glimpse at two forces currently sweeping the electronics industry: a growing appetite among first-tier OEMs to develop their own ASICs to power their systems, as opposed to buying third-party ASSPs; and the growing traction for TD-LTE in China.
Eran Briman, Ceva's vice president of marketing, in a phone interview with EET Times, said, "OEMs -- whether in the consumer electronics or infrastructure market -- increasingly want to be in the driver's seat by licensing a DSP core and designing their own SoCs."
Even if they lack resources to design chips on their own, he explained, "System vendors are getting highly involved in chip architecture definitions, they license cores and hand them off to ASIC suppliers to develop ASICs they want to use."
Hang on. You mean ASICs have risen from the dead?
It's well known that two leading smartphone vendors are designing their own apps processors to drive and differentiate their own handsets. The same goes for base station equipment vendors, said Briman. As system vendors' investment in software development for base stations continues to grow, they want a platform that's "more flexible and scalable," he added. "That's the big shift we're seeing now," he said.
So, who's at risk of getting the short shrift from system vendors like ZTE?
That would be companies such as Texas Instruments or Freescale Semiconductor who offer ASSPs for base stations, Briman said.
Typically, those companies offer solutions "based on a general purpose DSP augmented by a lot of hardware around it," he said. But when base station vendors need to design true multi-mode systems armed with lots of complex software, they want to invest in a platform whose destiny they can control, Briman explained. Such software they are developing range from multi-mode basebands to wireless backhaul and Wi-Fi offloading.
In the case of ZTE, the Chinese telecom equipment supplier has its own chip division -- complete with ASIC design capabilities, said Briman, just like the world's leading telecom equipment behemoth Huawei also has its own affiliate, HiSilicon, to design their own silicon. For its own LTE TDD/FDD base station, ZTE is likely to "design a multi-core solution with a cluster of DSPs, with ARM core attached to it to handle upper layers," Briman observed.