Motorola and Lucent give the right signalsWhat effect will the alliance of the second and third biggest players in DSP have on the market? Roy Rubenstein examines the Motorola and Lucent link up Motorola and Lucent Technologies’ decision to co-develop DSParchitectures is likely to cause a stir throughout the industry. The DSP market is traditionally conservative even if it is the fastest growing semiconductor segment. It is characterised by fierce but predictable competition between leading vendors Texas instruments (TI), Lucent, Motorola and Analog Devices. The only merger activities seen of late have been confined to DSP card subsystem manufacturers: Loughborough Sound Images merged with Mizar to form Blue Wave Systems, and Spectrum Signal Processing’s acquired Alex Computer Systems. The alliance between Lucent and Motorola represents a major development, bringing together the respective No. 2 and No. 3 in the DSP market. As part of the alliance, each has agreed to license the other’s technology. Lucent gets Motorola’s DSP56800 Hawk as well as its 32-bit M.Core embedded Risc core, to become its first public licensee. In return, Motorola gains the use of Lucent’s high end DSP16000 (see EW, September 17, 1997). This second sourcing arrangement will go down well with customers, argues John Hughes, Lucent’s microelectronics group’s European managing director. “By working together we provide security of supply,” he said. Yet if the cross-licensing is significant, the most noteworthy development is the setting up of a joint DSP design centre in Atlanta, called Starcore, which will house 100 design engineers – 50 from each company. To be opened later this year, Starcore is tasked with developing a scalable family of DSP cores which will form the basis of the two companies’ next generation communications products. The cores will feature a fresh instruction set, breaking code compatibility with existing DSP families offered by the two companies. Initially, three 16-bit cores – based on a single-, dual- and quad-multiply-accumulator (MAC) architecture – are being developed (see box). These respectively will address real-time embedded control, low power terminal applications and high-end multichannel systems such as modem banks and basestations. Lucent will also extend M.Core’s instruction set to enable it to better tackle DSP tasks The alliance benefits the two firms on several levels. Motorola immediately bolsters its high-end DSP offerings with the DSP16000. Lucent has less need for Motorola’s DSP56800 but will greatly value having M.Core – especially a DSP enhanced M.Core – which it could use in such products as mobile handsets, much in the way the ARM 7 is used by many handset makers today. Setting up a joint design centre allows the two to pool resources and save on costly development costs – an important consideration for Motorola after it announced 15,000 job losses. Fred Shlapak, senior v-p of Motorola’s subscriber systems group, cites a further benefit resulting from two leading DSP players combining to create a common DSP core family: “By putting the two companies together to develop one common core, this will encourage and motivate software vendors and third party tool developers to support our architecture.” Yet both Lucent’s Hughes and Motorola’s Shlapak failed to highlight the most obvious motivation for the alliance: to take on TI, the market leader in DSP. TI, according to Dataquest, had a 34 per cent share of the $3.6bn 1997 DSP market. Lucent and Motorola have market shares of 24.3 per cent and 10.3 per cent, respectively. In mobile communications, a market segment of key interest to both Lucent and Motorola, TI’s position is supreme. It claims to have its DSPsin over half of all the digital mobile phones made each year. For the GSMcellular standard alone some 50 million terminals will be sold this year. This will rise to over 100 million units by the year 2000. “GSMis accepted in more countries than McDonalds,” points out Hughes. DSP semiconductor shipment revenues overall are expected to grow fourfold to between $14bn and $16bn in 2002. To exploit this burgeoning market, the family of cores from Starcore will be used by other Lucent and Motorola divisions for use in end products. Shlapak points out that with today’s ICs, a DSP core accounts for less than ten per cent of a total chip area. “The differentiator is what is around the chip,” he said. In this respect Motorola and Lucent are well positioned having much-coveted logic and mixed signal libraries. Yet however good the libraries, the success of the Lucent/Motorola alliance will ultimately depend on just how architecturally efficient the new cores are. TI, at least publicly, claims that it is not unduly concerned by the Lucent/Motorola alliance. It argues that developing cores shared between two companies, and to address three market segments – communications, automotive and consumer electronics, will inevitably result in compromises. Moreover TI expects that it will take at least two years before the deal will start to have an impact. “We will not be inactive in that period,” said a TI spokesman. TI also highlights another issue in its favour. Lucent and Motorola will use the designs in their end products. “Why should Ericsson adopt their DSP cores when they will be in [Lucent/Motorola] handsets that compete with its.” In another famous alliance involving Motorola, three firms set out to challenge Intel’s dominance in the microprocessor market. Its effect, though, proved just the opposite:Intel treated the initiative as a fundamental threat to its survival and responded accordingly. If TI is more troubled by the alliance than it is letting on, the result can only be good news for DSP users everywhere. DSP alliance at a glance Lucent gets Motorola’s DSP56800 Hawk as well as its 32-bit M.Core embedded Risc core. Motorola gains the use of Lucent’s high end DSP16000. The Starcore design centre will develop a new instruction set based family of cores. The first three cores will have a single-, dual- and quad-multiply-accumulator (MAC) architecture. Application areas being targeted are real-time embedded control, low power terminal applications and high-end multichannel systems The most powerful core will be rated at 1,200 million MAC/s. TI current highest performer, the TMS320C6201, is clocked at 200MHz and is based on a dual-MAC architecture. Lucent is also extending Motorola’s M.Core’s instruction set to enable it to better tackle DSP tasks.