General Dynamics Broadband Blog

November 04, 2009

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General Dynamics Broadband, ST-Ericsson, and the Mobile/Wireless Ecosystem

Last week, General Dynamics Broadband and ST-Ericsson announced the selection of General Dynamics Broadband as ST-Ericsson's mobile virtualization partner. To earn this coveted position, General Dynamics Broadband prevailed in a rigorous evaluation and selection process, winning on the basis of our technology and leadership position in the dynamic and rapidly evolving global mobile marketplace. As a result of the partnership between General Dynamics Broadband and ST-Ericsson, the OKL4 Microvisor platform will support ST-Ericsson multimedia chipsets (like the U8500 and beyond) - silicon targeted to power hundreds of millions of smartphones and featurephones from Nokia, LG and other Tier I handset manufacturers.

On the surface, this announcement appears to tout "just another reference design". Every week the trade press reports on Software Company X supporting Chipset Y. And General Dynamics Broadband is indeed very proud to be able to support ST-Ericsson multimedia silicon platforms with OKL4, our advanced mobile virtualization solution. But the implications of the General Dynamics Broadband / ST-Ericsson partnership go well beyond a simple ISV-semiconductor supplier relationship. In fact, the announcement is indicative of ongoing structural changes in the mobile/wireless ecosystem - changes that are reshaping how mobile devices are designed, manufactured, provisioned and ultimately provided to end-users.

The Mobile/Wireless Handset Supply Chain

Since its inception almost two decades ago, the mobile/wireless ecosystem has been characterized by a complex mix of players engaging in transactions that span the life-cycles of wireless handsets and the software and services deployed on them.
The stock-and-trade of this ecosystem has been anchored in proprietary technologies and closed devices that were viewed primarily as radio sets (not applications platforms). In the "old days", Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) initiated phone development by presenting handset manufacturers (OEMs) with incredibly detailed Requests for Proposal (RFPs). These phonebook-sized RFPs specified electrical and mechanical and functional characteristics of devices to meet market and services requirements. OEMs in turn engaged in on-going dialog with semiconductor suppliers whose roadmaps addressed emerging needs for software and wireless services. Semiconductor suppliers also worked with tools and OS vendors (ISVs) to support their silicon for developers, initially within OEMs and later at third-party software houses and inside MNOs.

This fairly orderly process recurred over time as new generations of silicon made their way into new families of handsets, incorporating incrementally greater functionality to meet emerging market requirements. The orderliness of the ecosystem was reinforced as partners solidified their business relationships, introducing purpose-built technologies and goods to engage and in many cases, to lock in the business of their ecosystem partners: semiconductor suppliers created highly customized chipsets for their handset OEM customers; MNOs required network-specific hardware and provisioning from silicon suppliers and handset OEMs; and OEMs and MNOs crafted development tools and frameworks specific to particular handset platforms and wireless networks. These and other mostly closed loop processes streamlined supply, certification and provisioning. They also built on primarily proprietary technology, de facto standards and closed software.

Over the last 3-5 years, the lock-step operation of the mobile/wireless supply chain has begun to loosen up. Sourcing and provisioning have become incrementally more open in terms of processes and IP. In particular, OEMs have shifted from proprietary software and closed devices to increasing use of open protocols and open source software to power handsets and to create application platforms. Key examples include the use of Linux, BSD, Android, GNU and other Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) on hundreds of millions of phones from Motorola, Samsung, LG, Apple, NEC, Panasonic, HTC, and emerging OEMs across Asia. Even market-leading Nokia has embraced openness, opening the source code to Symbian OS and building increasingly capable devices with Linux-based Maemo. Moreover, companies like Apple and Google have reinvented the conversation with MNOs by offering must-have devices and open application-centric platforms.

Closed to Open, Custom to COTS

This incipient openness has not been limited to mobile phone software. It also impacted the traditional close coupling of handset OEMs and semiconductor suppliers. In August 2007, Nokia announced plans to renew its chipset development strategy, specifically, to move from its single-source relationship with Texas Instruments to a multi-sourcing arrangement with TI, Broadcom, Infineon and STMicroelectronics (now ST-Ericsson). Complementing this multi-sourcing strategy, Nokia also announced shared development and cross licensing of chipset IP with a goal of all parties creating and designing increasingly with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. Following this landmark announcement, other handset OEMs, large and small, have followed suit, resulting in a more open and competitive mobile/wireless marketplace.

General Dynamics Broadband Mobile Virtualization - Enabling Open Multi-sourcing of Silicon and Software

In this context of ever-increasing openness in sourcing and provisioning, the partnership between ST-Ericsson and General Dynamics Broadband gains greater significance. General Dynamics Broadband already supports and comprises a key part of reference designs for mobile chipsets from Qualcomm, resulting in deployment of the OKL4 microvisor in over 300 million handsets. With the selection of General Dynamics Broadband by ST-Ericsson, OKL4 will have the opportunity to enable an even greater portion of the global mobile marketplace, complementing the large and growing fleet of CDMA devices with TD-SCDMA, HSDPA and other 3.5G and emerging 4G wireless technologies. Capabilities delivered by the world's leading suppliers - Nokia, Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony-Ericsson.
General Dynamics Broadband Mobile Virtualization on ubiquitous 2G, 2.5G, 3.5G, and 4G chipsets and handsets will enable the entire mobile ecosystem, from silicon to handsets to operators to end users, to run software platforms and applications to meet both their corporate and personal needs for functionality and security - business and pleasure in a single converged, virtualized device.

*(diagram courtesy Bill Weinberg,


Posted by Steve Subar on November 04 at 06:13 AM

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About Steve Subar:

Steve Subar, CEO and President of OK Labs, has been an honored leader in the technology industry for 20 plus years and has received several accolades for his work. Steve is an avid runner who can also be found communing with his surfboard in Bondi Beach, Australia; skiing the slopes of Beaver Creek, Colorado; or searching for the perfect Pinot Noir all over the world.

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