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Processor technologies are undeniably moving towards consolidated, integrated architectures to take advantage of multiple processor types in tandem while saving on size and power consumption. While such heterogeneous ICs are changing the way chipsets are developed, licensed (core IP), and manufactured, not all applications need or necessarily want them. High-performance remains the chief metric by which end users select embedded processors, particularly for those using digital signal processors (DSPs). As a result, intensifying application requirements will preserve the market for discrete DSPs in a world increasingly prevalent with holistic system on chips (SoCs).
Signal processing requirements are escalating in a variety of industries. The continued expansion of 4G wireless technology throughout Europe, as well as increased 3G adoption in emerging Asia-pacific countries such as India, will fuel growth for high-performance DSPs in base stations and other access layer equipment. The greater demand to provide sufficient cellular quality of service and coverage is amplified by the tremendous growth in connected devices produced by the Internet of Things.
Though upgrading and deploying new backhaul networks will be the leading application for modern and next-gen DSPs, high-performance signal processing will still be crucial in other industries, such as consumer electronics and industrial automation. For example, the new Apple iPhone 5s includes a secondary coprocessor, the M7, embedded with DSP technology specifically designed to easily manage and migrate sensory workloads from the main processor – simultaneously increasing device performance and saving energy. Similarly in the industrial automation space, the growth in peripherals on the shop floor such as cameras and sensors for machine vision applications will necessitate the parallel processing performance of high-end DSPs.
Though several discrete processor markets continue to combat SoCs for design wins (including DSPs), the proliferation of heterogeneous processors has allowed traditional DSP suppliers to form new revenue streams through IP licensing, much like what is already done for CPU and GPU cores. Furthermore, new and growing application requirements will still require pure, optimized DSPs for the foreseeable future. For these reasons, we believe discrete DSP manufacturers can keep calm and carry on.