Analog design is at a crossroads, and consolidation is all over the map. The recent flurry of mergers and acquisitions begs a simple question: what’s happening in the analog and mixed-signal design realm? What’s the future of the analog design industry amid the consolidation wave?
A short answer to these questions is that analog and mixed-signal design is no longer the specialized domain it once was. According to Laurie Balch, research director at Pedestal Research, the biggest change is really how much more pervasive it’s now across the board. “Because of the explosion of wireless, mobile, sensors and associated device development, analog and mixed-signal circuitry is everywhere,” she added.
Mark Waller, director of the user enablement at Pulsic, echoed Balch’s views on the current state of analog design. “For some time, analog design has been focused on analog circuits as the interface between the real world and the digital,” he said. “However, the amount of analog circuitry in devices is increasing as more functionality is integrated into an ever-expanding number and type of embedded devices.”
Waller: The analog design ecosystem remains strong and diverse.
Waller attributes this shift mainly to the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). He said that over the last decade, this trend has accelerated with many startups focused on different sub-sectors of the IoT market spanning from wearables to general-purpose microcontrollers with varying numbers of combinations of real-world sensors and interfaces.
Besides the rise of IoT applications, a closer look reveals that new design starts are increasing the amount of CPU power, which significantly raises the complexity of power management. “The number of power domains in a typical chip is dramatically increasing over time,” said Joseph C. Davis, senior director of product management for Calibre Interfaces and mPower Power Integrity at Siemens Digital Industries Software. “The number of power domains will almost double in the next five years, and that is a result of putting more and more content into a chip that is making power management harder and harder.”
Davis: The number of power domains will almost double in the next five years.
More importantly, these chips are connecting to the real world, and that’s where the analog and mixed-signal blocks allow digital blocks to communicate to the real world. Davis says that a dramatic increase in the analog content is a testament to how the rise in processing is intertwined with sensors and analog. “The growth connected to sensors is even more profound because a lot time you have multiple sensors in a single die with processing and analog interfaces,” he added. “These are the sensors that are linked to the Internet via the communication interfaces necessary to connect the sensors to the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other connectivity pipes.”
The sensors connected to the Internet are driving another critical shift: MCUs are getting key analog features onboard. It’s a prominent trend that has been well underway for many years. For instance, Renesas has integrated high-performance oscillators in its MCUs.
There is another critical dimension to the intertwined world of processing and power management, as noted by Sailesh Chittipeddi, executive VP and GM for IoT and Infrastructure Business Unit at Renesas. “Though SoCs are getting complex, especially at smaller nodes, the separation of process domain and power management domain is likely to remain intact,” he said. “As the processor becomes more complex, the number of power rails that are required for performing functions goes up quite significantly.”
Chittipeddi: The process domain and the power management domain are likely to remain separate.
In the old world, it used to be an analog power controller; now, it’s a digital power controller along with secondary power stages being used to control the processor power regime because it’s no longer possible to integrate a single function in it.
Finally, regarding analog nodes, Pulsic’s Waller pointed out that the digital-first designs on FinFET processes demand a whole new generation of analog IP. At the same time, however, the largest number of design starts remain on older planar processes, particularly in the IoT market, which is very sensitive to mask and production costs. He added that the 28 nm, 22 nm, and 18 nm silicon-on-insulator (SOI) processes look to be the dominant analog nodes for at least the next five years.
Apparently, a lot is going on in the analog design realm. Therefore, the connection between analog engineers and digital engineers must be tighter than ever in order to achieve design success, said Balch from Pedestal Research. “Vendors across the semiconductor, EDA, and electronic design ecosystem clearly see how prominent this trend is and have been responding with relevant acquisitions and new product introductions.”
Editor’s Note: It’s the first article in a series focusing on the changes in the analog design landscape. The second article will cover the impact of the consolidation wave on the analog design industry.
- Which type of “analog” designer are you?
- Return Mission to Planet Analog
- Building analog interfaces for low power design
- Analyzing circuit sensitivity for analog circuit design
- Designing analog and mixed-signal circuits on digital-CMOS processes