Wireless connectivity is taken for granted these days in products ranging from our personal media devices to industrial metering equipment. However, one point that may not be appreciated is the pace of wireless chip development is constrained by the bandwidth of the internal wireless IP development teams. WiFi implementations come in many different standards and configurations. In 802.11n for example, there are Single Input Single Output (SISO) and Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) each with multiple configurations depending on the target market. 802.11n with 1x2 or 3x4 antenna configurations are required for different service levels in office and home networking while 802.11ac implementations are required for video applications (Fig 1). Automotive systems require the low latency capability in the 802.11p standard. In addition, architectural preferences for integrating the radio/power amp with system logic versus separating analog and logic functions complicate the delivery roadmap for the IP development teams.
When a large SoC company provides WiFi across multiple business units the priorities of the internal WiFi development team are usually formed by the one or two largest BUs and may force compromises within other Business Units. Smaller BUs in the company fight just to make sure the design-in window for their projects is not jeopardized. Reluctance to use unknown 3rd-party IP providers to supplement the internal IP roadmap comes from the high cost and lost time associated with fixing IP errors. In fact, many of these so-called IP errors are really just a consequence of not using the IP best-fit to the SoC requirements (Fig 2). It is now possible to confidently overcome those concerns and improve operational flexibility. Case-study:
One of our top 10 IDM clients requested Silicon-IP, Inc. to supplement the resources of their internal IP management team. The end result was to select a complete 28nm WiFi chain from one or more 3rd parties. A critical requirement was for the 3rd party IP to be implemented with minimal intervention from the in-house IP development resources. Three different types of IP providers were evaluated and ranked in the selection process. Silicon-IP performed the due diligence among these groups; i) a set of individual IP providers that together enabled the complete WiFi chain, and ii) a complete WiFi chain from; a) design houses with expertise in the target WiFi applications, and b) strategic licensing from WiFi chip companies Fig 3).
The Silicon-IP deliverable was a quantified and rank ordered analysis based on a three-axis criteria including; sourcing capability, performance to SoC spec, and total cost of ownership (Fig 4). For clarification, Silicon-IP acts as an agent for our clients. Silicon-IP is not a reseller or a market maker in IP. Due Diligence: Sourcing Capability.
We ranked providers based on their experience in developing analog/mixed-signal IP during the early stages of the logic process production ramp. You need to find teams that understand how to design when early models are likely to change based on future silicon data. Providers that actively participated in the standards discussions and understood the difference between the required, optional but tested, and option spec features ranked higher. Performance to SoC Spec.
Silicon-based test data must support the performance claims listed in datasheets and delivered in simulation files. Rankings are based on the following areas; design reviews - ensure adequate circuit margin to compensate for global and local processing variations, test chip architecture & plan – testing conditions simulate SoC environments at-speed and with appropriate noise injection, test lab & data – structured characterization methodologies with chain of custody for all data points. Total Cost of Ownership.
The lowest negotiated license fee does not necessarily provide the lowest total cost of ownership at the BU level. IP providers with vertical application expertise may require a higher negotiated agreement but increases in productivity for the internal IP development team and SoC integration teams are orders of magnitude greater than the cost differential of IP agreements. In addition to economics and risk partitioning, rankings are based on application expertise, responsiveness, and consulting services provided to the SoC client during development, integration, and production ramp. What are the major obstacles your teams encounter when trying to outsource 802.11 IP?