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A different hardware and software approach is boosting network processor efficiency. By Graham Pitcher.

A change of name, a change of management and an injection of finance appear to have worked wonders for Ubicom. Where previously, as Scenix, it developed configurable microcontrollers aimed at such applications as lawn sprinkler controls, today Ubicom is playing in the fast world of consumer electronics, developing network processors for use in leading edge data communications equipment.
Kevin Gee, senior product manager, noted: “When we became Ubicom, we launched the IP3000 – the first multithreaded network processor. That has since evolved into the IP5000 family.”
He noted the company’s basic business model is to sell chips to major manufacturers of consumer networking gear, including Netgear and D-Link. “But we also do networking stacks and operating systems, releasing this as source code. Our software development kits allow customers to build turnkey home routers out of the box.”
Gee said it has partners who take the IP5000 and add more features, VoIP for example. “Slim Devices, with the Squeezebox, is one example – and the company has just been bought by Logitech.”
Ubicom believes it has anticipated market developments with its products. “In the past,” said Gee, “home networking gear has been designed to move data – email and web pages – around at low rates from one part of the house to another. These are not time critical nor bandwidth hungry.”
But times are changing; absolute bandwidth is growing by at least an order of magnitude. PHY rates are approaching 300Mbit/s, said Gee, translating to a real world data rate of 150Mbit/s.
The reason for this is a change in the type of data being transmitted and the diversity of applications.

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Graham Pitcher

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