Telecom devices get smarter

DN Staff

November 1, 1999

7 Min Read
Telecom devices get smarter

Whether you're pumping gasoline, buying a lottery ticket, or phoning a friend--even checking tomorrow's schedule on your personal data assistant or watching a digital satellite broadcast--chances are you are reaping the benefits of embedded systems.

Since the first microprocessor came into play in the 1970s, chips have made industrial and consumer products faster, cheaper, smaller and easier to use. Now embedded systems--microprocessors and highly specialized software that reside together on a chip--promise to take electronics to new heights.

When you think of microprocessors, personal computers may come to mind, but only 15% of these chips reside there. A full 85% of all microprocessors sold, however, are found in consumer products like phones and digital cameras. Within 10 years, these discrete microprocessors may be more powerful than today's desktop PCs, and thanks to the Internet, enable consumer products to interact in ways unseen before.

Computers without traditional user interfaces, such as a monitor, mouse, or keyboard are found almost anywhere remote monitoring, control and management are required. Compact and efficient, embedded software applications are written to perform highly specialized tasks with little human interaction. This makes the embedded software developer's job a challenge. In a market characterized by shortened design cycles and time-to-market pressures, developers must streamline production cycles to remain competitive. These market drivers make integrated tool sets an attractive option for embedded developers.

Integrated Systems, Inc. (ISI, Sunnyvale, CA) provides real-time operating systems and software components for embedded microprocessors. The company also produces embedded application design tools, networking products for device connectivity and management, and offers engineering design services for accelerated co-sourced product development.

"Developers want to have a choice of processors and tools, so they can select the right processor for the right application and not have to change compilers and debuggers and development and validation methodologies simply because they changed the process," explains Mark Pittman, senior director of product marketing.

The company's flagship product, pSOS, is a real-time operating system used in embedded systems to perform task management, memory management and process scheduling.

ISI aims to target the internet appliance market with its Web-PDA, the company's first freely-distributed reference platform design. The October introduction kicked off the company's new technology alliance program, Vantage IA, a framework for developers of smart consumer electronics. This program promises to deliver new reference platforms for use by different markets, including cell, video phones, modems and set top boxes.

The WebPDA reference design is based on Mitsubishi's M32R processor and ISI's pSOS+ real time operating system and incorporates a package of hardware, middleware and software, schematics and bill of materials for chips and packaging design. The WebPDA offers a "first stop" shopping option for developers for a complete hardware and software package.

ISI also recently licensed Sun Microsystems' Java to provide a foundation for embedded applications, porting it to the pSOS operating system.

NetTVs, Internet Pads, Web phones, wireless personal data assistants and other smart devices stand to gain immeasurably from embedded system evolution. As embedded systems and pc computing worlds merge, reference design platforms will become more critical.

In the telecom/datacom market, embedded solutions help manufacturers build modems, routers, switches, hubs, head-end equipment and wireless communications equipment.

A Santa Clara, CA-based supplier of integrated chip and large networking software stacks, Virata offers broadband, local loop equipment, primarily ADSL, G-lite modem and router applications, for the telecommunications market. Virata's embedded systems integrate a variety of peripheral physical interfaces, including PCI and USB for PC applications, or Ethernet, HomePNA and ATM for networking applications.

Virata delivers a unique combination of software, firmware, and hardware that creates a complete system-on-a-chip. These Integrated Software on Silicon solutions combine high performance, programmable ASSPs (Application specific standard product) with an integrated multi-protocol software stack. Manufacturers use this technology to quickly build high-performance, low-cost broadband solutions.

The company's semiconductors are built around a jewel processor architecture, and are networked and used alongside DSL processors to provide physical interface into DSL line.

"We are targeting home users and small offices, for small scale, consumer applications," says Duncan Greatwood, vice president of marketing, "since people will have more telephone lines they can manipulate in different ways."

DSL offers residential users a fast Internet connection at speeds up to 140 times faster than today's standard 56K modems. The ETHERset modem provides a 10BaseT Ethernet interface to the subscriber's PC via a telephone line, whereas the NIC internal modem uses PCI to plug into any desktop computer. Both of these products are fully interoperable with all ADSL DMT G.lite and selected full-rate compatible CPE routers, bridges and multiplexers.

"The high degree of integration with silicon and quantity of software we provide is substantial," says Greatwood. "This enables our customers to reduce the time spent in their own development work."

Next Level Communications, a supplier of switched digital access products for delivering voice, data and video services--chose Virata's asynchronous transfer modem (ATM) and Internet protocol (IP) technology in its newest ADSL modems and network interface cards (NICs).

"We chose Virata's products so we could realize all of the advantages of a completely integrated chipset," says Loren Dooley, senior director at Next Level. "Not only is their hardware and software optimized for maximum performance, but we also have access to Virata's engineers to further our solutions. It's a service you don't see too many other chip companies offering."

Virata's Hydrogen, Lithium, and Helium ASSPs and associated software provide protocol processing functions in a single chip for broadband equipment. The ASSPs have integrated into them the interfaces required for different kinds of equipment, such as PCI (Lithium), or USB and Ethernet (Helium), achieving cost reduction for the equipment as a whole. Also, Virata's ASSPs have intelligent embedded processors, which enable them to carry out the configuration and management of the equipment, including that of the physical layer circuit, and avoids the need for separate microcontrollers in the overall design.

"Virata's integrated software on silicon solutions make the job of PCB design as simple as possible to reduce time to market and development risk," says Greatwood.

Embedded Linux Platform for Telecom Developers

Embedded system platform leader Motorola Computer Group (Tempe, AZ) has teamed with Lineo and Caldera to launch its SLX series, the first in a planned family of Linux-based embedded platforms for internet networking applications, such as web access, web security, web caching, and virtual private networks.

The product will provide telecom manufacturing customers with Linux-based platforms, open source software, service and support. The SLX series supports telecom manufacturers building networking solutions for the growing number of internet service providers requiring cost-effective Internet access.

Helius develops satellite interface solutions, connecting local area networks to the Internet via satellite, regardless of the network operating system. Motorola Computer Group's SLX Linux-based embedded platform in combination with Helius' satellite technology, provides telecom OEMs with more data access options.

"The rapid growth of electronic commerce and World Wide Web usage is transforming the telecommunications industry and created explosive demand for connectivity to Internet applications," says Wayne Sennett, corporate vice president and general manager of Motorola Computer Group.

1998 Unix server software shipments totaled roughly 1.5 million, and 750,000 were Linux based systems, says International Data Corporation. Dataquest also predicts that the market will grow from $2 billion in 1999 to $16 billion in 2002, with revenue growth of 70 percent a year.

The SLX application consists of a 2U-sized, rack-mounted chassis which includes a motherboard based on Intel's architecture, integrated 10/100base-T Ethernet interface, two I/O slots, floppy, CD-Rom and 6.8GB IDE disk. The model SLX2010 for web server applications includes a 333-mHz Celeron with 128-Kbyte cache and 64 Mbyte memory and two PCI slots. The model SLX 2020 for virtual prototype networking and web caching includes a Pentium III with 512 Kbyte cache and 128 Mbyte memory and one available PCI slot.

Motorola has teamed with Helius, (Orem, UT) a provider of data-via-satellite solutions for local area networks, to develop for the SLX platform.

"Satellite delivers unbeatable speed for applications like internet protocol multicase and remote Internet access," explains Myron Mosbarger, president and chief executive officer of Helius. "This relationship with Motorola Computer Group creates new opportunities for data transfer via satellite in the telecommunications industry."

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