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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

MIPI Alliance: specifications for the external interface

 
October 18th, 2012 by Peggy Aycinena

The MIPI Alliance was founded in 2003 by STMicro, ARM, Nokia and TI. In 2004, Intel, Motorola, Samsung and Philips joined. Today, there are over 240 companies in the Alliance, 18 working groups, and over 5000 participating individuals. Following his presentation during the general session at SAME Forum in Sophia Antipolis, I had a chance to speak with STMicro’s Joel Huloux, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the MIPI Alliance.

Huloux differentiated between the work of the MIPI Alliance and OCP-IP: “OCP-IP is more related to the inside of the chip. It is very useful for interconnect when you buy IP to put in your design. If you look at MIPI Alliance, however, we do not deal with internal bus processors, or networks. We deal with the interface which is external to the chip, particularly in a mobile device, the interface between the chip and the display, camera, and so on. There is no competition at all between OCP-IP and MIPI Alliance.”

If that’s the case, I asked, could the two organizations ever merge?

Huloux said, “This has not been asked for by our members. It might be an added value in the future, but as of today you are the first to ask the question. We are looking at cooperation with other organizations, however. Some have been announced – JEDEC, USB 3.0 Promoter Group in June, and PCI-SIG in September – while others will be announced later.”

What was the inspiration for the MIPI Alliance?

Per Huloux, “STMicro started the alliance in 2003, but we were not alone. Other founders includes two application processor companies, TI and STMicro, an OEM, Nokia, and an IP provider, which was ARM. The inspiration? At the time, you had people protecting their leadership by using specific interfaces and specific modules. They were defining it, but all the providers’ options were proprietary.

“From the point of view of Nokia for instance, who was defining the interfaces, they were using a lot of engineering resources in the process and having to explain how to use the interface to each customer. Every customer had to deal with each provider independently, the result being that people were spending time over and over again doing the same thing.

“It was 2003 when STMicro put the 4 founding companies in a room, and decided to do something about the problem. We all definitely said at the time, there’s no added value in protecting or keeping secret our interfaces, because if our added value is in the interface, we need a different job. And that was the inspiration for the MIPI Alliance. Now we have over 240 companies in the Alliance.

“Then we decided we needed other big companies – Intel and Samsung, for instance – to be part of MIPI Alliance. This was very important for us, because these were very influential companies. Also for a company like Intel, they have a strong history of standardization in the semiconductor industry. Look at the USB standard, which they helped develop. Recently the IEC recognized USB as an outstanding development, a definite success. This has been additional inspiration for us.

“Today at MIPI Alliance, we deal with royalty-free interfaces. This can be difficult for a big company, because they are going to have to put their IP on the table when people put it into a specification. But at the same time, the process provides a possibility for companies to take advantage of the standardization.”

Huloux noted that software companies are also finding value in the work of MIPI Alliance: “In the beginning, the Alliance was made up of very dedicated hardware and IP companies, but lately we’re getting software companies interested as well. Members now include Microsoft, Apple, and Google, which is very good for us because we see an increase in interest in the industry. They are helping push us to look at the software layer.

“Now we are working towards a time when we can work more closely with application software-oriented companies as well, to provide innovation to MIPI Alliance to help us provide even more. We know that the software effort is big. I do believe we need help from these companies to deliver standardized drivers and layers to ease the life of people who need to interface with software layers.

“I believe this is the next step, because one of the problems today is we do the hardware, but the software comes later. However, everybody believes it would be good to have hardware and software people working together earlier for better definition of the interface. If you look at the interface we’re defining, if you have software engineers cooperating on the definition of the interface – even if it were a hardware interface protocol – just writing down the specification together produces a better result.”

Given the amount of work his Alliance leadership requires, I asked Huloux how he balances that effort with his obligations at STMicro.

He said, “I am responsible for defining the strategy at STMicro for standardization, and for ST Ericson as well. Yes, being a chairman of MIPI Alliance is a lot of work, but it helps a great deal with my work at STMicro.

“When I make presentations at STMicro or other companies involved in the alliance, management everywhere understands that when you participate in standards, it is not just a contribution to industry. It is also a contribution to your own company. It saves time for everyone involved to understand how to implement and use a standard. Companies also understand that this is something that everyone should be involved with.”

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Per the website …

MIPI Alliance is a global, collaborative organization comprised of companies that span the mobile ecosystem including semiconductor companies, software vendors, IP providers, peripheral manufacturers, test labs and end product OEMs. All are committed to defining and promoting interface specifications for mobile devices. Today, more than 240 member companies actively participate in the Alliance, developing interface specifications which drive consistency in processor and peripheral interfaces, promoting reuse and compatibility in mobile devices.

Specifications span technologies from camera, display, and battery interfaces, to high-speed and low-power serial interfaces. You can find more detailed information here.

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