Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Automotive PHY Battles: A-PHY vs Auto-Serdes, Sony Evaluates A-PHY

PRNewswire: Valens announces that it has started an evaluation with Sony Semiconductor Solutions to develop and integrate MIPI A-PHY technology into next-generation image sensor products.

A-PHY Serdes standard was released by the MIPI Alliance in September 2020 aiming for integration of cameras, sensors and displays in vehicles, while also incorporating functional safety and security. Valens is the first company to market with A-PHY compliant chipsets. Recently, Valens announces a PAC deal to list at NYSE at valuation of $1.16B. (EETimes)

"It's highly important for Sony to integrate the cutting-edge technology into our image sensors, and A-PHY serializer integration will provide significant benefits for our customers," said Kenji Onishi, General Manager, Automotive Business Department, Sony Semiconductor Solutions. "The MIPI ecosystem is growing quickly, and we're happy to be early adopters of this automotive connectivity standard. Valens is in a leading position with A-PHY, which is why it is so important for us to start this collaboration. We believe future models will have even higher resolutions. In addition, our company is preparing to integrate several features into their next-generation sensors, including metadata output, higher framerate, and wider bit depth – all of which will require an ultra-high-speed, long-reach connectivity solution such as MIPI A-PHY. We will continue to support not only A-PHY but also D-PHY, proprietary interfaces, and open-standard interfaces."

MIPI A-PHY standard faces a competition of Automotive SerDes Alliance (ASA) that offers quite similar performance and feature set. SemiEngineering discusses the two standards competition:

"The reason for the separate and independent ASA development isn’t publicly clear. In some of their statements and materials, it is positioned as the only standardized alternative to proprietary schemes, without acknowledging the existence of the MIPI/VESA solutions. And some say that, during the A-PHY definition process, the group split, with one side moving to create the new ASA group.

Some further digging revealed that the main concern seems to be that the A-PHY technology comes from one company, Valens, which contributed it to the standard. However, “MIPI A-PHY, like all MIPI specifications, is made available under royalty-free terms,” said [Peter Lefkin, managing director of the MIPI Alliance.]

Still, the issue for ASA members appears to be that only essential patents get a license. Valens has implemented this in a way that includes non-essential patents, and licensees don’t get access to those patents. A statement from the ASA steering committee noted, “There are examples where the solution of one supplier was successfully made a standard, but there are many examples where it did not work.”

The ASA folks are more interested in a process where multiple companies contribute technology without one company dominating. The ASA effort is licensed under FRAND (free or reasonable and non-discriminatory) licensing.

MIPI’s concern is there may be royalty uncertainty prior to acquiring a license. There apparently has been some history in the automotive realm of companies refusing to license essential patents. Regardless, it’s pretty clear that the A-PHY and the ASA PHY will compete head-to-head. How that competition resolves itself is not yet evident."

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