SAN JOSE, Calif. – Qualcomm Inc. and one other ARM-based mobile SoC vendor have taken licenses to SMSC's patented Inter-Chip Connectivity (ICC) technology, a low power variant of the 480 Mbit/s USB 2.0 standard geared for chip-to-chip links. The companies are expected to use the interconnect on a variety of future SoCs and peripheral chips.
The news comes at a time when the MIPI Alliance, an ad hoc group developing mobile chip interfaces, is months away from releasing a new spec that will upgrade an existing 200 Mbit/s link to hit data rates from 1 to 2.9 GHz. Mobile chip makers have broadly adopted the group's camera and display interfaces, but not the 200 Mbit/s interconnect about to get the upgrade.
The deal with Qualcomm and another chip maker is a sign of market traction for USB "not only as an external bus but also more and more for internal connectivity because there are so many peripherals that want a standard protocol and class drivers," said Robert Hollingsworth, a senior vice president at SMSC.
SMSC developed the ICC technology (which is part of the High Speed Inter-Chip or HSIC standard) in 2006, but only put together in June 2010 a formal licensing program for the patent behind it. Synopsys has IP for the interconnect although it has not taken a license with SMSC.
The USB Implementers Forum was working on a variant of the technology that would have supported both USB versions 2.0 and 1.1. But the group disbanded the effort about three weeks ago after both Qualcomm and Intel exited the working group.
A spokeswoman for the USB-IF did not return a request for information for this story.
Previously, only MCCI, a test systems company, took a license with SMSC for ICC. It has sold more than ten protocol analyzers for the ICC spec to date "which is interesting because we haven’t sold more than ten [ICC] licensees," said Hollingsworth.
Marvell has advertised ICC functionality on one of its chips, Freescale has discussed supporting the link as part of its road map and a Texas Instruments data sheet mentions the technology but says the related chip does not conform to the details of the spec. None of the three companies has an SMSC license, Hollingsworth said.
SMSC hopes the broad desire for saving power will help it eventually expand the technology from mobile to fixed systems. The company licenses the technology free to host processor and SoC makers, but charges a $100,000 one-time fee for companies that want to use it in peripheral chips.
The company aims to make most of its money on ICC not from licensing but from making its own ICC-based peripheral chips, Hollingsworth said.
MIPI on the rise