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Digital & Analog Blend in Today’s PHY

These days, at least in the major product categories that are driving the industry forward (smartphones and tablets), there is no such thing as a digital chip or an analog chip. They are all mixed-signal devices.

Lip-Bu Tan, president and CEO of Cadence Design Systems, said this month in his DAC 2013 Vision talk (which I covered for EDN) that the smartphone and tablet platforms have given the semiconductor industry an incredible boost, the likes of which has never been seen before.

One common aspect to these device classes is that they contain many interfaces to peripherals and communications networks. Peripherals include cameras, touch screens, audio interfaces, and memory of many types (including external flash). For example, the CMOS sensor for a camera is likely to be in a separate chip from the main processing chip. This requires a high-speed interface capable of streaming high-definition video between them. Many types of communications are available, including WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G and 4G wireless, and wired connections such as USB. In addition, many internal protocols are used to move information around within the system.

Also, these devices have to use little power, since battery life is a primary factor in purchasing decisions for these devices. We are even seeing a previous-generation platform — the laptop — becoming a lot more power conscious these days, so that it can compete with the tablets.

We don't tend to think of reuse and IP when it comes to the analog space, but this is one area where standards are being set, interfaces are being defined, and things such as the physical layers (PHY) of many of these interfaces can be boiled down to just a few choices. That enables specialization and interchangeability. One layer that has been defined for the mobile market is M-PHY. This was defined by the Mobile Industry Processor Interface (MIPI) Alliance, which was established in 2003 to create interfaces and standards for the mobile world. The same PHY can be used for many interfaces and protocols, including UniPro, DigRF, JEDEC Universal Flash Storage, USB SuperSpeed InterChip, and even PCIe.

What makes this PHY so popular is that it defines multiple power modes, including hibernate, sleep, burst, stall, and high-speed burst states. Along with this flexibility in power comes a whole bunch of additional logic to control the transitions between states — functions that are primarily digital.

This state diagram shows multiple power modes for the PHY interface, including hibernate,sleep, burst, stall, and high-speed burst states.(Source: MIPI Alliance)

This state diagram shows multiple power modes for the PHY interface, including hibernate,
sleep, burst, stall, and high-speed burst states.
(Source: MIPI Alliance)

The state diagram was originally published by the MIPI Alliance for the 1.0 version of the specification that came out in 2009. It shows that this block cannot be considered just an analog or digital block. I think we will see more such setups. This is just one example of digital supporting better analog. Several techniques are emerging these days where the two are coming together to solve problems that neither one could do efficiently or effectively on its own.

The next product platform wave is already taking shape and will fuel an era of ubiquitous computing and communications. It has already received several tags, such as the Internet of Things (IoT). This era will require even closer cooperation between analog and digital. I will be looking at other examples of digital assisting analog in my blogs, but perhaps you have some views on the IoT. Are we ready for the smart fridge? Are we ready to deal everything and everyone to be tagged and tracked? How will we deal with the privacy issues that this type of information sharing will create?

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19 comments on “Digital & Analog Blend in Today’s PHY

  1. goafrit2
    June 25, 2013

    >> there is no such thing as a digital chip or an analog chip. They are all mixed-signal devices.

     

    Even the most advanced processors by Intel and AMD are anchored on analog sub-systems. You are right, there is nothing like sole digital systems. We have mixed-systems which involve analog and digital units. That creates a higher level of complexity.

     

  2. jkvasan
    June 26, 2013

    @Brian,

    Great post.

    We may be ready for a smart fridge or a washing machine. However tagging and tracking everything , mainly personal items, may amount to invading one's privacy. 

    A blog on the subject by Duane Benson in MCC also dwells on similar points.

  3. Brad Albing
    June 26, 2013

    @JK – this will be an ongoing problem – trading off convenience (or in some cases security) for privacy. We'll see more blogs besides this one and the one on MCC you mentioned.

  4. jkvasan
    June 27, 2013

    @Brad,

    I would also like to register that 'paranoia' does not get us anywhere. Fear of unknown has always haunted people. In British India, common people used to be afraid of those lamp posts as they thought British army would tie them up with those wires. Only when they could see the benefits, they adapted accordingly.

    Probably, all this connectivity stuff is for the good only. We should move on by securing things wherever it matters and enjoy the fruits of this communication explosion.

  5. PCR
    June 29, 2013

    True goafrit2 I also agree with your say “….all mixed-signal devices.”

    I believe that its all about marketing and positioning of the products. 

  6. PCR
    June 29, 2013

    True JK we will be in the smart world in the near future with the technology, but ultimately the peoples mind set will be matters.

    Thanks for the blog link, thou I am not a member of that blog.

  7. jkvasan
    June 29, 2013

    Ranasinghe,

    Over time, people always adapt to technology and its inconveniences. The market also finds ways to make the technology suitable to people day by day.

    When mobile internet was introduced, everybody was sceptical about it becoming popular. People hated to see web pages in the small screen. When they started adapting to those small screens, manufacturers responded by making high resolution and , later, big screen phones. Now an equilibrium is achieved.

  8. goafrit2
    July 4, 2013

    >> However tagging and tracking everything , mainly personal items, may amount to invading one's privac

    The real discussion will be if the next generation will care about this privacy when they are giving everything in Facebook etc. I think companies should take advantage of the redesign and build products that may align with the lifestyles of the younger people

  9. goafrit2
    July 4, 2013

    >> this will be an ongoing problem – trading off convenience (or in some cases security) for privacy.

    The issue of privacy is blurred because when I am surfing on the web, I know someone can track my IP address. Even if you know what I am doing, I cannot see how that affects me since you do not know me or have an ID of me. If I have to be scanned naked by young girls to enter a plane, why should I worry over who sees what happens in my IP?

  10. goafrit2
    July 4, 2013

    >> Probably, all this connectivity stuff is for the good only. We should move on by securing things wherever it matters and enjoy the fruits of this communication explosion.

    @Jay. This is well said. This is my own philosophy in life. Worrying over these issues of privacy that have no practical harm confuses me. I agree with you – let us free ourselves a bit.

  11. jkvasan
    July 5, 2013

    goafrit2

    Fear of unknown has always been one important reason which has kept people away from trying newer technologies.

    Credit Cards are a classic example. Using credit cards and buying is very easy to an extent people lose control and spend more. It is the control factor that needs focus rather than the Credit card.

  12. goafrit2
    July 7, 2013

    >> Credit Cards are a classic example. Using credit cards and buying is very easy to an extent people lose control and spend more.. It is the control factor that needs focus rather than the Credit card.

    I agree with you. The good news is that sooner or later, that fear goes and progress takes place. There is always a reason to stop any new innovation. But the problem may not be the technology but the way people use it.

     

  13. jkvasan
    July 8, 2013

    Now NFC enabled devices are expected to become sort of digital wallets. All these could make buying process easier, but the user needs to make the right decision. Technology can be a facilitator not the boss.

  14. goafrit2
    July 11, 2013

    >> Technology can be a facilitator not the boss.

    In the early days of IT, my boss was thrown out because he said that the IT guys must work for the operation unit. Then IT was so important that the CIO and IT Director were like runnng the business. But as you noted, IT is a tool to help operations and people and not us serving technology in general.  Technology facilitates things …making processes faster and optimal.

  15. jkvasan
    July 13, 2013

    goafrit,

    Those days, when someone mentions IT, it is something done with a regular desktop PC. Now, every household appliance has in built intelligence and IT is not special any more. It has become a generic ingredient in all that we  use day to day.

  16. goafrit2
    July 17, 2013

    Good point. IT is no more as “alien” as it used to be. People are understanding that IT is part of the human and business systems as nothing can truly happen without an IT component.

  17. jkvasan
    July 23, 2013

    goafrit,

    IT is not computers only any more. Intelligence is being built even in calling bells. Toys have never-before-imagined learning features. Wireless communication technologies such as NFC are going to change the way people using gadgets in the near future.

  18. SunitaT
    July 31, 2013

    Smart refrigerator has been programmed to sense what kinds of products are being deposited inside it and retains a track of the stock through barcode or RFID scanning. This type of refrigerator is often equipped to decide itself whenever a food item needs to be replenished. Model RH2777AT, is available now from Samsung. The real hook here is the removable LCD TV screen with Internet browsing ability.

  19. BrianBailey
    July 31, 2013

    This assumes that I buy things with barcodes and RFID tags on, which is something I strive to minimize. A fridge can never know when I am about to make cookies or a cake, so when I need butter or eggs etc. I am not sure a Smart Fridge would be able to dumb itself down to my lifestyle and add any value.

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