What’s A Subsystem?

Changes forced upon the IC industry by complexity will be huge, but so far it’s difficult to say what they will be.

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The interchangeability of IP has proved to be a myth. While large companies have been able to tap into their internally developed IP quite successfully, the ability to use commercially available IP has proved to be limited—particularly outside of the standard IP world.

That will change, but not in the way most of the small IP companies actually expected. While the barrier to entry for developing IP will remain relatively low, the real value will be in pre-integrated IP. Those may be focused on particular areas, such as video and audio, complete with codecs and processing cores, but they also may include completely integrated die that can go into a package.

The pieces that are still unknown in this model are who will act as the general contractor for integrating these pieces—and subsequently who will take responsibility for them—and who will actually sell them. They may be the same companies, or they may be different companies. But the bottom line is that complexity, time to market pressures and the subsequent cost of developing SoCs from scratch at advanced nodes will force significant changes in the supply chain.

The companies that figure out these shifts stand to win big. The companies that get it wrong may find their value sliding in the wrong direction rather suddenly. But the bottom line at this point is no one knows how this will unfold, when it will unfold or who will be the likely survivors. We don’t even know exactly what a successful subsystem will look like in the future.

–Ed Sperling


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