Rethinking Innovation



I bought my first wireless telephone back in the 1980s–a big, bulky device
lugged around on a shoulder strap. Costing many hundreds of dollars, it let me
just place and receive calls. Of course, we all know what’s happened to the
wireless telephone in the ensuing decade. New generation models cost
significantly less and fit neatly into a shirt pocket or clip inconspicuously to
my belt. The most important change, however, is what they can do. In other
words, it’s no longer just a communications device–it’s a convergence
device, one that mixes features and capabilities from the once-distinct worlds
of computing, communications and consumer electronics to provide greater value
to the user. We are surrounded by examples of how convergence devices are
changing our world and our lives. None of this convergence would be possible
without the recent dramatic increases in silicon capacity that has led to
innovative developments at opposite ends of the customer spectrum.

“Today’s
wireless phone can be used to keep appointments, browse the Web, ‘chat’
and even play games. That’s hot and amazing…” 

BY Ray Bingham

The new design dilemma
Behind these advances, however, is a dilemma. Despite the escalating complexity
posed by shrinking geometries and convergent worlds of computing,
communications, and consumer devices, the process of electronic design remains
largely unchanged. It is still partitioned into four distinct and separate
design ecosystems that are assigned to teams of engineers with specialized and
disaggregated knowledge, languages, and tools.

Hardware-software convergence
Unlike traditional IC designs, new generations of devices are rapidly
becoming more of a software effort than hardware. In fact, the amount of
software engineering content in such devices already exceeds the hardware
content, and the percentage is growing. As this rich mix of hardware and
software grows, so too must the interaction between the hardware and software
design teams. Breaking down the barriers between the hardware and software
design ecosystems has enormous implications for IC providers and their systems
customers, including the adoption of new IC platform strategies, tools and
processes that enable rapid co-development while protecting massive software
investments.

Digital-analog convergence
The insatiable appetite for communications capabilities in digital devices
is creating explosive growth in mixed signal ICs. Within the next five years,
analysts predict that nearly three-quarters of IC designs will be mixed signal.
For this reason, companies have isolated analog circuitry from digital circuitry
for a number of reasons. The design approaches are completely different. As a
result, the designer skills are completely different with analog designers
requiring more mathematical skills and digital designers requiring more computer
architecture skills.

Silicon-package-board convergence
Exponentially increasing silicon capacity and performance affects more than
just the silicon; it also affects the IC packaging and printed circuit boards
(PCBs) that interconnect the silicon in a complete system. There is little value
in IC advances that keep pace with ‘Moore’s Law’ if the packages and PCBs
that use them cannot. New levels of integration are required as pin counts
exceed 1,000, digital frequencies exceed 500 MHz, and sensitive analog signals
cross IC boundaries. These factors are creating explosive growth in custom
packaging, which–over the next five years–will grow to nearly $16 billion,
up from $4 billion today. Leading-edge design teams working on silicon, package,
or board design must develop the capabilities to design all of these three
components simultaneously.

The design chain
Creating a design chain represents an enormous challenge to the electronic
design industry, but it also creates an attractive opportunity for companies
that aggressively tackle that challenge. Design chain management will require
coordination and cooperation on a number of fronts to meet the needs of systems
customers.

BY Ray Bingham
The author is president and CEO of Cadence Design Systems, San Jose, CA

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