The company was active in two areas, with two distinct product families.
Picochip was one of the first companies to start placing femtocells, mini cell base stations, in homes and offices. The femtocells help combat reception issues such as: dropped calls, poor sound quality, delays, and slow downloads. The idea is to help with the congestion of cell phone towers by allowing them to hold more cellphone traffic. The femtocell is very cost-effective, which is ideal because it makes connection free and does not interfere with other towers or frequencies.
Picochip developed a multi-core digital signal processor, the picoArray. This integrates 250-300 individual DSP cores onto a single die (depending on the specific product). Each of these cores is a 16-bit processor with Harvard architecture, local memory and 3-way VLIW.
The programming model allows each processor to be coded independently (in ANSI C or assembler) and then to communicate over an any:any interconnect mesh. The communication flows are fixed at compile time, not dynamically at run time (analogous to place & route of an FPGA but at higher level of abstraction). This can be described as communicating sequential processes. Each process maps to a processor, which is fully independent from other processors with "encapsulation", with interaction only through defined message passing and data flows through the mesh. This architecture is also related to object-oriented programming concepts. Notably, the development environment is deterministic: simulation of code is cycle-accurate to hardware execution. Advantages claimed include ease of development, improved reliability of code and software-reuse.
Although the picoArray architecture is generic and could in principle be used for any DSP application, the company has stated its strategy is to focus on wireless infrastructure. In particular, the processor is widely used for baseband processing in WiMAX base stations and for femtocells.
Independent benchmarks of representative communications systems by Berkeley Design (BDTI) indicate that the picoArray delivers significantly better performance-per-dollar than traditional single-core DSP devices.
Femtocells and small cells
Picochip was one of the earliest companies to be active in femtocells and small cells, and first demonstrated a prototype at MWC2005. The company since developed a range of system on a chip (SoC) products named "picoXcell". The company supplied SoCs into the small cell market, and claimed to have 70% share of the High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) market according to data from ABI Research.
The company was a founder member of the SmallCell Forum, and was on the executive board of that organisation.
Investors included Atlas Venture, AT&T, Highland Capital Partners, Intel Capital, Pond Venture Partners, Rothschild, Samsung and Scottish Equity Partners. There were also undisclosed strategic investors.
As of 2012 the company had raised a total of $110M in venture funding.
- "Bath microchip firm snapped up by American company in multi-million dollar deal". Bath Chronicle. 5 January 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
- Ben Rooney (6 January 2012). "Small-Cell Maker Picochip Acquired by Mindspeed". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 January 2012.