Over time the cell phone market took off and new applications required both more processing performance and lower power consumption. At the same time, a new breed of fabless semiconductor companies emerged to target the opportunities in wireless, as well as other DSP-enabled applications. As the benefits and infrastructure of fabless SoC designs gained traction, CEVA began to earn some impressive design wins, not only at the high end of the market in smart phones and multimedia devices, but also in the ultra-low cost handset market (the company is particularly strong in China). CEVA has since grown to be the number one licensor of DSPs in the world, with 78% market share (source: Linley Group).
While wireless baseband processors remain its top market, CEVA also is well-entrenched in products ranging from home entertainment systems, mobile media devices, and gaming products. Emerging markets such as machine-to-machine and smart grid applications also hold strong potential for CEVA.
Focus on 4G through Software Approach
Of particular importance to CEVA is the continued evolution of wireless technology. The company has tracked well with the evolution from 2G to 3G, with products that support those various incarnations. But, now all eyes are on 4G, which promises even more bandwidth and speed in all sorts of devices for consumers – phones, tablets, games, etc.
The term 4G is generally used to refer to a range of technologies – LTE, TD-LTE, HSPA+, WiMAX. This creates a moving target for chip designers, who must also deal with a myriad of local nuances to meet specific market requirements, not to mention the need to have multiple versions of the same design to offer a variety of feature sets. A major challenge for the chip companies supplying 4G solutions is that operators’ requirements worldwide vary and depend on multiple factors including: geography, legacy network, new standards rollout plans, customer base, regulation, competition and more. About the only thing that is certain is that without a platform that is flexible, designers will spend needless time and money re-doing their work and market opportunities will be lost.
CEVA’s strategy targets this need for flexibility – along with the demanding requirements for gigahertz performance and ultra low power consumption. The fluidity in the market has led chip vendors in the wireless space to look to a programmable approach that offers multimode system support and can replace multiple dedicated hardwired blocks. This approach forms the basis for the growing move toward Software Define Radio (SDR) technologies. SDR provides a single programmable platform that can be used to support multiple air interfaces without the need for chip replacements.
Despite the need to satisfy multiple and divergent technology needs, CEVA’s support of SDR comes in the form of a single architectures on which to base all the incarnations of a provider’s design. Its CEVA-XC, introduced in 2009, is a common processor architecture that can be easily programmed to allow suppliers to target any of the major markets, each of which has its own legacy standards that need to be supported. In the next generation wireless market, for example, using traditional hardwired design methodologies would require three different processor architectures to be developed for each of the markets: Europe (legacy HSPA and GSM/GPRS), China (legacy TD-SCDMA and GSM/GPRS) and US (legacy EV-DO and CDMA). Using a more flexible but single-architecture approach simplifies future development, lowers cost and enables mass scale production by only requiring software changes to address each of the markets.
While CEVA-XC is appealing for both its programmability and performance capabilities, its ability to provide both with low power consumption may be its most attractive benefit. Until now, SDR methods faced difficulties in meeting power consumption budgets. For this reason, most of the prior SDR work was done in the military and wireless infrastructure domains, since such equipment is not battery operated. However, with handsets and other mobile devices, application power is no longer a question of efficiency but an elementary feasibility issue. A flexible and performance-oriented solution is virtually useless if it cannot meet the power needs to wireless products. CEVA-XC is built from the ground up with effective power management techniques that address both dynamic power and leakage.
The CEVA Product Line
As the heart of CEVA’s offering is its unique DSP technology, which offers both high-performance and low power advantages over its competition.
Its core DSP product is called CEVA-TeakLite and is now in its 3rd generation. This has been the company’s workhorse for many years and is delivered in a number of different versions (16-bit and 32-bit) with various performance and power consumption options. It has been a mainstay in the 2G/3G wireless handset market, as well in home entertainment, game consoles, set-top boxes, Blu-Ray DVD players and voice-over-IP products. The TeakLite family is also broadly used in the ultra-low cost handset market in emerging markets throughout Asia, Latin America and India.
For additional performance and features, particularly in the 4G application space, CEVA added the CEVA-X platform to its portfolio. Based on a VLIW architecture, this family of DSPs offers up to 1GHz of performance and additional low power options. CEVA-X DSPs are highly scalable and customizable and use CEVA’s unique instruction level parallelism to achieve their optimal performance/power advantage.
At the high end of its product line is the CEVA-XC, enabling a true software defined radio (SDR) technology, as described above. It offers the industry’s highest performance communications processor for multimode 4G terminals and infrastructure, from small femtocells and picocells all the way to microcells and macrocells. The CEVA-XC family is optimized specifically for 4G wireless technologies such as LTE, WiMAX, HSPA/+ and TD-LTE. It uses another CEVA innovation, its power scaling unit, to achieve ultra low power consumption. Because of its flexibility, the CEVA-XC is ideal for markets that are still evolving or have multiple standards. Like the other DSP offerings from CEVA, the CEVA-XC is available in a variety of configurations.
CEVA also delivers its technology in application-oriented platform solutions or subsystems. Platforms typically integrate a CEVA DSP core, hardware subsystem and application specific (e.g. video processing) software and logic. Its family of platforms spans multimedia (audio, video, image), communications (VoIP), connectivity (Bluetooth) and high-speed serial communications (SATA and SAS). CEVA IP Platforms fundamentally reduce the complexity, cost of ownership, and time-to-market for products developed utilizing the platforms. Among the popular platform it offers are its HD-Audio, mobile multimedia, VoIP, Bluetooth and a video and vision platform, the CEVA-MM3000. All come with a complete set of libraries, necessary codecs and other software to efficiently develop complete SoC solutions for these application areas.
CEVA also offers IP for high speed serial connectivity with solutions for both SAS 2.0 and SATA 3.0 applications.
Programmability and customization are key characteristics underpinning CEVA’s success. Its DSPs are supported by a robust development environment that includes software development tools, ESL models, development boards, software system drivers and RTOS.
Its CEVA-Toolbox includes a highly efficient C/C++ compiler, an advanced GUI debugger, a built in cycle accurate simulator and optimized libraries. The company invests heavily in the software and library development aspect of its products, and customer benefit from these time-saving capabilities. The development environment is built on thousands of man-years of knowledge and has been leveraged by thousands of engineers worldwide to produce more than 2.5 billion CEVA-powered chips that have shipped to date. The development tools run on Windows and Linux, and are supported by a worldwide customer service team. CEVA DSPs are further complemented by extensive algorithms and applications from CEVA and the third-party development community.