Connected Iceberg

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in News
09 January 2013

The worldwide semiconductor market is finishing a tough year with IHS iSuppli forecasting 2012 at $303B down 2.3% from 2011.  At first blush this is not very exciting, but just take a moment and think about the increasing capabilities of the chips shipping in 2012 due to Moore’s law advancing capabilities across all semiconductors. Mobile devices like smart phones, media tablets and mobile PCs are driving semiconductor innovation and revenues.  But these devices are the most visible part of the iceberg.


As consumer’s mobile options and capabilities grow, smart phones and tablets are seeing large market growth due to increasing per capita adoption worldwide.  In November, Gartner noted that 2011 unit volumes of smart phones passed PC’s. Growth continues with 2012 smart phone volumes of 750M units out of a total of 1.675B total cellphones per IC Insights. And we are still in the early stages of smart phone market penetration with good growth expected for some time. Insights’ forecast revenue for cell phones grows from 24% of semiconductor total revenue in 2012, to 32% in 2016.

With the strong ecosystems around these platforms, expect more enablement of other markets with popular OS’s like Android and Windows8 RT.  Already Android powered, point-and-shoot cameras are shipping including Samsung’s Galaxy Camera and Nikon’s CoolPix.  With the combined share of Apple and Samsung slightly above 50% of the smartphone market, expect more semiconductor companies to provide high-performance low-power platforms into adjacent markets.

Now let’s look below the surface and see what factors are driving these growth segments of the market. First, internet traffic has grown eight-fold over the last five years per estimates from Cisco. This growth continues at 29% CAGR, with another threefold expansion by 2016. The number of devices connected to IP networks in 2016 will be 3 per person on the planet up from 1 per person today.  To support the increased number of devices, traffic expansion, connectivity, computing, and storage capabilities, increasingly complex SoC designs are required. Cloud computing and storage opportunities afford another avenue for performance targeted SoC’s.  ARM is bringing more capable cores, like the 64-bit Cortex A50 series, offering improved power efficiencies over traditional approaches for more intensive computing applications like high end tablets and servers.

Below this cloud infrastructure is the vast Internet of Things (IOT), estimated at twelve and a half billion units in 2010, expanding to fifty billion IOT elements by 2020 (Cisco researcher, Dave Evans). This interconnected web of “things” will allow us to become even more connected and aware of our surroundings, giving us real time data from the world around us and allowing unimaginable insights into our personal security, health, comfort, and more. The capabilities of the chips and sensors linked through various networks are amazing, monitoring our utilities, ad hoc gatherings with our friends, managing how our car charges, and enabling our doctor to better monitor our health for just a few examples. With almost five billion more 32-bit MCU’s shipping in 2013 (Semico), the IOT is getting smarter too. Expect more sensor and controller devices enabled by Android, Apple iOS, and/or Microsoft Windows 8 RT Apps going forward as consumers leverage the IOT.

Wherever the end market, complexity is increasing supporting more robust and vibrant user experiences.  As a result of massive function integration, the SoC world is now multi-core. The number of cores on each SoC is increasing dramatically as designers add more and more functionality. Designers are increasing their use of IP and also of IP based subsystems to get the right products to market in a timely fashion.  According to Semico, designs in 2013 will have an average of almost 90 different IP cores. Multi-core based SoCs funnel traffic to a common memory system; more cores and more complex subsystems, increases the likelihood of contention with the broad ranges of usage scenarios.

To better understand the challenges facing designers, Sonics commissioned an independent, blind worldwide survey. The survey covers on-chip communications networks (OCCN), defined as the entire interconnect fabric for SoCs. The survey was executed in October 2012.  Sonics makes this survey available to the SoC community to improve awareness of SoC OCCN challenges and solutions. The two biggest challenges continue to be hitting the right PPA (Performance, Power and Area) for the specified SoC design while balancing frequency, latency and throughput. Information in this survey includes:

  • For 2013 SoC design expectations, a majority of respondents are targeting a core speed of at least 1 GHz for SoCs design starts within the next 12 months.
  • 40 percent of respondents expect to have 2-5 power domain partitions for their next SoC design.
  • A wide variety of topologies are being considered for respondents’ next on-chip communications networks, including NoCs (half), followed by crossbars, multi-layer bus matrices and peripheral interconnects; respondents were seriously considering an average of 1.7 different topologies.
  • The survey participants’ top three criteria for selecting a NoC were: scalability-adaptability, quality of service and system verification, followed by layout friendly, and support for power domain partitioning.


Architects are outgrowing internally provided on-chip communication networks as they look to System IP to provide solutions for networking, memory efficiency, security, and power management integrated with the tooling to do architecture analysis for today’s complex SoCs. The ability to select and leverage System IP is becoming increasingly critical to the success of today’s SoCs.

At all levels the semiconductor market iceberg is advancing technology.  Mobile devices, representing the largest markets, have market awareness with consumer trends well covered and leveraged back to powerful SoC based platforms.  Independently, the innovation below the surface connects billions of things to the internet enriching the user experience by connecting our human senses to the larger world we interact with on a daily basis. The iceberg grows as the whole industry succeeds in delivering the abilities desired by consumers.

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 January 2013 15:06