When you’re using your phone, tablet, or laptop, you’re likely benefiting from advancements in the MIPI M-PHY® high-speed serial communications protocol, which enables the interface between SoCs, application processors, baseband processors, and peripheral devices. The specification contributes to the ability of these mobile devices to perform with the briskness and low power consumption we’ve come to expect as we’re navigating through feature-rich apps and multimedia content. And it’s thanks to a team of savvy engineers, including Synopsys’ Sergio Silva, that the protocol continues offering progressively faster data rates and enhanced power efficiency.
For his work advancing MIPI protocol over the years, Silva, a project director for Synopsys MIPI M-PHY IP, was recently presented with the MIPI Alliance’s Lifetime Achievement Award (the photo at the top of this post, courtesy of the MIPI Alliance, features Silva accepting his award). “An active contributor [to the MIPI Alliance] for more than a decade, Silva recently brought forward a key proposal for the next version of the specification and has leveraged his profound knowledge of physical layer requirements to proactively resolve issues and challenges, and clarify M-PHY use cases,” the Alliance noted in a news release.
Silva knew from an early age that he would pursue a career in electronics. We recently chatted with him about his work at Synopsys, his contributions to the MIPI M-PHY protocol, and how his roles with the MIPI Alliance and with Synopsys are complementary. Read on for some inspiring insights.
A: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked computers, electronics, and robotics, so this led me on a straight path to engineering school. I earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto, publishing a dissertation on distributed software radio architecture. Afterwards, it was only natural to continue my studies in a doctorate program at the same university, where I earned a Ph.D in electronics engineering and signal processing and analysis, completing a dissertation on interferometric synthetic aperture sonar systems.
Following my studies, I went on to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, where I studied communications systems. This was my first experience with microelectronics. My group there aimed to build models to help microelectronics designers design better communications systems.
A: After CERN, I went back to Portugal and accepted an opportunity in 2011 to join Synopsys as a project engineering manager. I started working with a design team that was building a new PHY for a new protocol, which turned out to be MIPI M-PHY. They needed someone with expertise to participate in work groups and lead discussions and architecture decisions around the PHY.
In the past 10+ years, we’ve evolved from a relatively low-speed PHY with little impact on the market to one that has now demonstrated market success with operating speeds at the limit of consumer-grade technology. (The latest version of the spec, MIPI M-PHY version 5.0, features a High Speed Gear 5 (HS-G5) that enables engineers to double the potential data rate per lane to 23.32 Gbps and to 93.28 Gbps over four lanes.)
A: Above all, it’s gratifying to help our customers achieve tape-out of their designs and move on to successful production runs. Knowing that I played a role in evolving a specification that is enabling all of this new technology that we use everyday is also satisfying. Collaborating with my team at Synopsys, there are a few other achievements that stand out:
A: Initially, I was involved in reviewing and understanding the specification. Over time, my role has evolved to making suggestions to help simplify the specification and to allow more feasible implementations. For example, as we’ve moved to higher speeds, I’ve worked with the team to propose specification solutions that allow Synopsys and other IP vendors to successfully implement PHY IP that support the latest data rates.
In these working groups, we have contact with a lot of customers and system implementers, discussing their needs, what they envision for the future, and what they expect to be required a year, 5 years, and even 10 years down the road. We always approach these opportunities with the mentality that we’re not just solving today’s problem. What we propose should be scalable so that we can adjust quickly to market demands.
A: The award is a welcome recognition of the work I’ve been doing on the M-PHY specification. My involvement in the MIPI Alliance working group for M-PHY is something I’ve been doing in parallel with my other responsibilities at Synopsys, and many people aren’t aware of this involvement. While all the contributions to the specification stem from team efforts, I’m honored that the hard work, time spent in meetings across different time zones, and time spent in different countries to attend meetings has been recognized.
A: When a specification is being developed, at Synopsys we’re also developing or finishing our latest MIPI IP solutions. Through the alliance, our efforts aim to push the spec to work within what we have envisioned. At Synopsys, we’re making changes to our IP in real time to meet the requirements of the specification, so the work is very complementary.
We’re already developing the next iteration of the M-PHY protocol, which will use PAM-4 signaling to support even greater speeds and larger data packets. There will be a lot of challenges electrically and at the protocol level. I’m confident we’re at a good vantage point. In my role, I’ll be able to provide a bridge, teaming up with the MIPI Alliance work group to develop a good understanding of the requirements while also collaborating with my Synopsys colleagues to develop IP to support the latest version.