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MIPS set to steal a march over ARM

Posted: 04 May 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile handset market  IP core  base band  processor 

With its aim to compete against ARM in the mobile handset market, MIPS Technologies Inc.'s has managed to wrangle a deal with a cellular base band/application chip company based in Asia. However the company keeps mum on the deal or the customer.

A little more than six months ago, MIPS Technologies Inc.'s goal to take a slice of the ARM-dominated mobile handset market seemed to be the proverbial impossible dream—at least in the eyes of most industry analysts. Today, while the goal still remains ambitious, MIPS has proven that the dream could actually come true. The processor IP core company it has landed a major cellular base band/application chip company based in Asia.

Sandeep Vij, MIPS CEO, is not saying who the customer is. But he acknowledged that the deal represents MIPS' first win on the cell phone market, displacing ARM as the processor IP core. The unnamed customer based in Asia "has licenses for both ARM and MIPS," and it chose MIPS over ARM for its future 3G base bands/application processors, explained Vij in an interview with EE Times at the Embedded Systems Conference.

While MIPS' so-called "anchor licensee in Asia" remains a mystery, Gary Mobley, senior analyst at Benchmark, speculated in his research note: "Our best guess is that it's either Renesas (1 per cent share of base band market), Mediatek (15 per cent share), NEC (2 per cent share) or Spreadtrum (less than 1 per cent share)."

Mobley further noted, "This win, combined with the Beceem win, could eventually give MIPS at least a 2 per cent to 4 per cent market share within the cellular base band market within the 2011 time frame." He added, "While 2 per cent to 4 per cent market share does not sound like a lot, the cellular base band chip market is a Rs.46,177 crore ($10 billion) market opportunity, implying at least a 10 per cent boost to existing royalties."

According to Mobley, MIPS' third quarter results—announced this week—finally hit the license revenue forecast. MIPS reported Q3 FY10 revenue of Rs.80.81 crore ($17.5 million)—increased 15 per cent sequentially, with license and royalty revenue up 42 per cent and 6 per cent q-on-q, respectively.

Ready to switch?
The market is ripe for change on mobile handset's processor IP cores, according to Vij. "When everyone is making similar products using the similar core, many on the market are hungry for change."

Customers can be persuaded to switch vendors for two reasons: differentiable solutions and price. "With MIPS core, we believe we offer highly differentiated solutions to customers," said Vij.

So, what's on MIPS' playbook to win mobile sockets?

In Vij's mind, MIPS' multi-threading architecture is the best leverage to replace its competitors' cores. "Mobile phones today offer so many features beyond just being phones," said Vij. "You need to send multiple instructions threaded in multiple streams to run multiple applications."

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