SAN JOSE, Calif. — The MIPS core will be used in a new cellular baseband processor shipping next year and a supercomputer in the works in Japan. The two data points are welcome news at Imagination Technologies as it puts the finishing touches on a reorganization and reflects on directions in licensing.
Earlier this year the company, which also designs PowerVR cores used in Apple iPhones, posted its biggest loss ever, prompting its chief executive to leave the company. New CEO Andrew Heath has plans by the end of the year to sell three business units that should get the company back in the black.
Sales of the Pure digital-audio broadcast unit, Hellosoft and an SoC design services group will bring in less than $10 million and take the company’s headcount down to about 1,200. “That puts us at an opex level paid for by our royalty stream with licensing revenue taking us above that and making us profitable this year,” said Heath, a former non-executive director of the company.
Despite rumors earlier this year that Apple might buy the company to ensure its access to PowerVR GPU cores, the two never got into serious discussions and no other deals are in the works. “My agreement with the board is not to go out and sell the business, we are pursuing an independent strategy of an IP licensing business,” he said.
The company’s current strategy is a practical one.
It does not aim to go head-to head with ARM, “that would be a fool’s errand,” Heath said. Instead it will “build defensible positions around existing markets in networking, home gateways, set-top boxes, automotive” and specific verticals in the Internet of Things that can use MIPS’ capabilities in hardware multithreading and virtualization, he said.
The set-top market where MIPS holds sway is set for an uptick in royalties. Broadcom recently reported it cannot make set-top SoCs fast enough, attributing demand to a burst of orders for 4K systems. Heath thinks Broadcom is also gaining sales in China for lower-end products.
The company is not saying whose cellular baseband will use MIPS next year, but if revenues will be significant they presumably come from one of the top three players — Qualcomm, Mediatek or Intel. Separately, PowerVR cores will be used in some virtual reality products hitting this holiday season.
Japan’s Pezy Computing, a designer of massive multicore processors for high-performance systems, is working on a MIPS-based project. However, it is not likely to be at the level of the ARM-based supercomputer Fujitsu is developing in Japan. Pezy tends to focus on highly power- and cost-efficient systems.
Next page: China, RISC-V beg licensing questions
PowerVR's market share (top gray line) has been on the decline since 2011, according to figures from Jon Peddie Research.