The future of the MCU market

A Luminary Micro product story
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Edited by the Electronicstalk editorial team Mar 13, 2007

Jean Anne Booth, Chief Marketing Officer of Luminary Micro, discusses the fragmentation and impending consolidation of the MCU market.

The maturation of a marketplace is not based on "divide and conquer" but on "consolidate and prosper".

This well-understood stage in a market's development is now happening in the area of microprocessors, and companies such as Luminary Micro in the USA and Alpha Micro in the UK are capitalising on this trend.

In the early stages of a market, disparate technologies develop, sometimes haphazardly, under the pressure of newly identified needs.

As these requirements become more clearly defined, the market becomes more structured and technological innovation gives way to volume growth.

However, in these early stages, the market is still very fragmented, with no supplier holding a dominant share.

Eventually, some companies emerge as principal suppliers; in some cases, the few become dominant as an oligopoly, or one may even become the sole monopolistic supplier.

Remember the computer market? As it grew to maturity by the late 1970s, the list of computer suppliers included Honeywell, Sperry, Burroughs, DEC, Data General, IBM, Cray, Amdahl - to name but a few.

Each had its own underlying architecture, which ultimately consolidated to one - the x86 - by the mid-1990s.

The cost of supporting the total ecosystem (software, tools, applications, support etc) was a significant factor in the consolidation to what we now know ubiquitously as the "PC".

The same evolution occurred in the embedded (noncomputer) microprocessor market.

In the early 1990s, the embedded microprocessor market featured solutions based on x86, i960, 29K, SPARC, MIPS, ARM, 68K, PowerPC and others.

This market has consolidated dramatically with ARM market share exceeding 80%.

More than 2.3 billion ARM-based embedded processors are shipping each year.

The embedded microcontroller market is a huge market with over US $26 billion in annual revenue.

It is also extremely splintered, with more than 40 suppliers feeding in excess of 50 architectures into the market, yet no single architecture holds as much as 5% share.

This market is a good example of one that has grown very big while still remaining fragmented - thus far.

With the introduction of the ARM Cortex-M3 core, first brought to market in Luminary Micro's Stellaris MCUs, the stage is set for disruptive forces to consolidate this last silicon processor frontier.

Like the computer market's consolidation, software and ecosystem play a significant role in the consolidation of the microcontroller market.

Time to market is invariably driven by the software in an embedded design with over 48% of production costs attributed to software (VDC).

Together, Luminary Micro and ARM have the answer to the embedded software developer's dilemma - complete compatibility from US $1 to 1GHz, a range unequalled.

With entry-level devices at just $1, Luminary Micro's Stellaris MCUs provide ARM-compatibility for the same price as current 8 and 16bit solutions, while providing significantly more performance.

The Cortex-M3 core dramatically extends ARM7 capabilities for MCU applications.

Stellaris Cortex-M3 MCUs provide a two-fold improvement in interrupt performance, and a four-fold improvement in MCU control applications.

In addition, the compact architecture of the Thumb2 ISA needs only half the Flash code space as ARM7 applications.

Stellaris MCUs appeal to the embedded market in other compelling ways: in addition to the many performance, price, and functional advantages of Stellaris MCUs, ARM enjoys the broadest knowledge-base of any core in the world.

The ARM community has the industry's leading tools and software together with the most vibrant third-party ecosystem.

Importantly, being part of the ARM community gives developers access to hundreds of third-parties, reduced development costs and increased efficiency.

The openness of ARM is the catalyst that allows Stellaris MCUs to extend the ARM architecture into the wider 8 and 16bit market.

This is the disruptive force that begins the MCU consolidation.

Although this process may take years, during which embedded systems designers and end-users of embedded systems will reap the rewards of increased market competition, the consolidation will happen as it did elsewhere.

At both Luminary Micro and Alpha Micro we recognise the fundamental market need for this disruption, and have dedicated ourselves exclusively to accelerating this transition.

Let the revolution begin.

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