| Industry Insight|
The Future of Connected Mobile Computing
"It's what computers have become" neatly sums up Nokia's position on its recent flagship consumer handset, the N95. The handset, which integrates high-specification camera, video, satellite navigation and web browsing, is a prime example of the continued convergence of computing and communications technology. Ian Drew, vice president of segment marketing, ARM, considers the way that the industry ecosystem has developed to support the needs of the new connected mobile computing market.
Three consumer needs are currently at the forefront of handset manufacturing. First, despite buying products that offer more and more functionality, consumers do not want to have to recharge their batteries during the day. Demand for a full-day use model – an always-on handset that will last all day on a single charge – makes low power a critical need that is high on the design and manufacturing agenda.
In addition to long battery life, consumers want their portable devices to deliver sufficient performance for the applications they are running, including office applications for business and multimedia capabilities incorporating music, video and gaming. It is also essential to provide an excellent browser experience if users are to embrace mobile internet.
And third, both businesses and consumers want to be able to find, use, and communicate information as and when they need to, so devices need to be permanently connected. Some want the same level of access to information on the move as they have when using their desktop PCs. The web browser is key technology in meeting that need.
Demand for office, internet, multimedia, games and social networking applications is driving the smart phone market to volumes of around 150 million units per year and, potentially, further significant growth. According to global market research firm Ipsos Insight, the number of people accessing the internet from a mobile phone is growing faster than those using wireless access from a notebook PC. A huge installed user base puts the mobile phone in a strong position to become the dominant internet platform outside the home.
Comparing Market Growth Rates
The significant opportunities for mobile applications become even more apparent in the light of wired and wireless technology market trends. For example, use of SMS is still growing at a compound rate of 24 percent, and data at 41 percent. Shipments of internet-enabled phones outstrip media-enabled phones, but both have very high compound growth rates: 48 percent and 30 percent respectively (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Growth in SMS; Internet-enabled phones;
Media-enabled phones; Data usage
Sources: Gartner; Jon Peddie
The question facing manufacturers is how best to tap into these growth trends. Integration of several capabilities within a single mobile device has proven to be a winning formula for manufacturers in the past, and there is no reason to believe that this will change. For example, always-connected functionality will allow users to adopt mobile instant messaging as well as SMS.
There is also a potential upside for mobile operators: an opportunity to increase revenues is presented by handsets supporting new services, including email, access to music, video and other downloadable content, and location-based services like provision of maps. At the same time, operators must manage potential threats that disruptive technology brings, the obvious one being wireless voice over IP (VoIP). A phone that supports WiFi and includes a VoIP client offers a no-cost alternative to using the operator's network for voice.
During the last 10 years, handset design has evolved from a uniform product that enables basic voice communication to a multitude of devices that support a broad range of communication options. Today's smart phone platform offers scope for a range of form factors and features for different target markets.
However, cellular handsets are not the only option for connected, converged portable products (Figure 2). Personal media players, satellite navigation devices and handheld games players benefit from enhanced connectivity. Sub-laptop mobile computers offer consumers a more portable alternative to the traditional laptop computer.
Figure 2: Convergence of connected mobile computing
Like all consumer markets, the market for connected mobile computing devices is highly competitive, so differentiation is critical to product success. Designing products for low power and cost is essential, as is providing a level of performance appropriate to the target application.
The structure of the mobile computing ecosystem is one of the factors that enable companies to achieve these design goals. Companies can license IP from multiple sources to create their own differentiated designs and have them fabricated by any of the major chip manufacturers or foundries. They can choose fabrication process technologies that suit their applications and manufacturers appropriate to their business models.
OEMs integrate the manufactured devices into the final product and add software to differentiate the application further. Again, a broad choice of software IP and development environments enables OEMs to optimize the software for their products. The connected mobile computing industry is vibrant, fast changing, competitive and characterized by innovation that continues to yield a rapidly expanding and diverse range of products. The structure of the mobile ecosystem supports innovation at every point in the development flow.
Nurturing Ecosystem Growth
An industry-wide willingness to collaborate has led to the growth of a diverse ecosystem of companies offering a broad range of software, with support for different standards, development tools and environments. This collaborative approach offers a number of benefits:
Choice and Flexibility
ARM provides processor IP to chip designers and manufacturers, who then have complete choice in how to build on that IP. By customizing commercial IP and adding their own proprietary IP to meet specific needs, each chip manufacturer is able to focus on differentiation, developing their devices for a broad range of mobile products that target a range of different markets.
Fostering Differentiation and Innovation
In this respect, ARM's business model enables the design community to differentiate and encourages innovation. It gives entrepreneurs the means to bring their new ideas to market and, reduces barriers to entry by removing the need to raise prohibitive amounts of capital. The fabless business model also offers a greater degree of flexibility for OEMs. The result is that, by taking advantage of ARM IP and the ability to choose manufacturers, more than 200 licensees are continuously innovating and creating highly differentiated products.
Another benefit is that having a broader supply base of silicon and software reduces the risk involved in this innovation. As a result, the number of ARM licensees has doubled from over 100 in 2002 to around 200 in 2006. The number of ARM processor-based product shipments increased to something approaching 2.5 billion in 2006.
Experienced Development Community
The success of efforts to build a development community is evident in the numbers: collectively tens of thousands of SoC engineers and hundreds of thousands of software engineers are creating millions of ARM processor-based connected mobile devices.
This development community is now spread across all regions of the world. Globalization of the electronics industry has introduced consumer electronics to vast new markets in regions such as China, India, South America and Eastern Europe. While these countries offer the prospect of huge numbers of consumers, individuals' disposable income is much lower than that of people in the established Western markets. According to telecoms research and consulting firm ARCchart, many in the industry see a sub-$100 3G handset as a key to unlock untapped developing world markets. Product price points and cost become even more critical if manufacturers are to compete profitably in these new high-growth markets.
ARM helps manufacturers minimize their costs by providing area-optimized IP architectures, by supporting choice in routes to manufacturing, by working with Synopsys and other EDA vendors to develop design flows that minimize power and support design for manufacturing, and by encouraging choice and flexibility within the mobile computing ecosystem.
Collaborating to Achieve Low Power
Low power is the critical technology driver for this market. ARM and Synopsys have collaborated on a project to deliver a low-power implementation solution for ARM's Intelligent Energy Manager (IEM) technology through the proven Synopsys Galaxy™ design flow for dynamic voltage and frequency scaling.
ARM's IEM technology combines hardware and software features to control voltage and frequency depending on the dynamic needs of the application. The power management software and hardware controls the system to use as little power as possible for a given task, running the processor only as fast as necessary (commensurately using only the voltage required to operate at that frequency). This is adjusted on-the-fly, for each task or timeslice. This approach can reduce processor power needs by as much as 60 percent, which can equate to as much as 15 – 20 percent of the overall system power.
ARM's IEM technology works with the operating system and handset applications to adjust the required CPU performance level through a standard programmer's model. It does this by balancing processor workload and energy consumption, while maximizing system responsiveness to meet end-user performance expectations. This will not affect the user experience, except that the battery will last longer between charges.
ARM and Synopsys have also built on their extensive low power collaborative research and silicon technology demonstrators to create the Low Power Methodology Manual (LPMM) for SoC Design, published by Springer.
The LPMM enables designers to adopt aggressive power management techniques and take advantage of the latest low power features in ARM IP and Synopsys tools; an enhanced ARM-Synopsys implementation Reference Methodology for the ARM1176JZF-S will incorporate the LPMM techniques for an automated power gating flow through the Galaxy design platform. One of the technology demonstrator SoCs described in the LPMM, the Synopsys-ARM Low Power Technology (SALT) demonstrator SoC showed more than 96 percent leakage power savings using the techniques described in the LPMM.
Enabling Manufacturing Choice
The link between design and manufacturing is increasingly important in achieving performance, power and area goals. ARM works closely with foundries and EDA vendors to optimize design reference flows for particular processes, and in fabricating reference designs to demonstrate best-in-class implementation.
Choice of manufacturing partner enables choice of process technology. Because silicon-on-insulator (SOI) enables higher performance and lower power than CMOS, it is the process of choice for all gaming platforms, satellite chips, ultra-low power circuits for watches and so on.
ARM has worked closely with foundry partner UMC to migrate 65nm CMOS to 65nm SOI (L65SOI). This is the first open foundry and IP offering for worldwide availability of 65nm SOI process technology. The solution comprises ARM's portfolio of standard cell library, I/O library and SRAM compiler, and UMC's manufacturing capability.
The connected mobile computing market needs rich wireless and wired communication to provide always-on and connected functionality. Combining high performance and low power to enable full-day use of office-class applications for business and multi-day standby, rich multimedia support including music, TV, video and gaming, and excellent browser support.
This market is characterized by innovation and competition. Product companies need support to implement their ideas quickly and efficiently. Above all, they need support to differentiate. The partnership approach advocated by ARM encourages a broad supply base that provides choice of hardware and software intellectual property, silicon, development tools and expertise that is fundamental in offering an industry platform for differentiation.
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