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SiTime still standing tall in MEMS timing devices industry

Posted: 22 Mar 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MEMS Oscillator? timing devices? microelectromechanical systems?

SiTime, the company that achieved quite a number of "firsts" in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) timing devices, appears to have won the battle of the fittest. It seems destined to take virtually 100 per cent of the MEMS timing market in 2016, according to analysts at Yole Development.

MEMS timing devices are seen to take over the timing chip market sooner or later, which prompted a half dozen companies to jump in the market in the last decade. But for various development, marketing and capitalisation problems, SiTime!the leader since 2008!appears to be the last,

"SiTime is the last MEMS oscillator maker standing," said Rajesh Vashist, CEO of SiTime. "We were the first to ship 100 million units, the first to offer a diversified catalogue of timing devices and we had over 90% of the market last year and expect to double the number of devices we deliver in 2016."

According to Jean-Christophe Eloy of Yole Development, Vashist is right. The oldest start-up besides SiTime was Discera, which was bought by Micrel, which was bought by Microchip and whose catalogue lists the same devices that Discera was selling in 2012. (Discera's original MEMS design team has also reportedly been disassembled by Microchip, too.)

IDT and SiLabs also have quietly removed from their catalogues the MEMS timing devices that they originally announced a few years ago. And the latest start-up, Sand-9, whose claim-to-fame was that it could integrate MEMS timing chip IP into the same package as the processor, hub, transceiver or other chip it was supplying timing signals to, was quietly acquired by Analog ue Devices where it disappeared. ADI is using it captive IP to make ADI's chips self-timing, Mark Sherwood, principal associate at Consulting Services and Associates LLC (Cupertino, Calif.), told EE Times. The move makes ADI's chips unique in the marketplace. There don't seem to be any seminal start-ups on the horizon, says Eloy, making SiTime truly the last MEMS timing chip maker standing.

SiTimes CEO

Figure 1: SiTimes CEO Rajech Vashist

SiTime is number one in timing derives, said Sherwood, with its most famous buyers Google and Apple for their smartwatches and HP for its health monitors.

Behind SiTime, ironically, are quartz-crystal suppliers who buy MEMS die from SiTime, then add value to them for their target markets. In order of sales volume, after SiTime, are TXC, Maxim Vectron and Abricon, all of which invested $4 million equity into SiTime, which they have since recovered when SiTime became a wholly owned subsidiary of MegaChip, but who still license SiTime dies for their value-added MEMS oscillators.

"SiTime has a great team that has remained intact since the MegaChip acquisition," Sherwood told EE Times. "SiTime operates independently as a whole owned subsidiary!unlike the Discera and Sand 9 acquisitions."

Only a handful of other companies selling non-SiTime IP against its MEMS oscillators, according to Sherwood. Avago has a piezo-electric thin film bulk acoustic resonator (FBAR) oscillator with no moving parts. And a start-up, Cymatics Laboratories Corp. (Pittsburgh), has a unique GHz range piezo-electric resonator, but now needs a partner to improve its ASIC for mass production.

NXP, Texas Instruments and Murata are also experimenting with MEMS oscillators, according to Sherwood, but none are in mass production yet.

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Figure 2: SiTime has three basic types of resonators, all being sold today. The 5MHz general-purpose was its first, followed by its 48MHz for lower phase jitter and the 524kHz for realtime clocks and ultra-low power MHz clocks. (Source: SiTime)

"Our development strategy has been to deliver differentiated MEMS that offers unique benefits, like our new 32kHz real-time clock for wearables, IoT and mobile applications. The Super-TCXO is the industry's smallest, it beats Swiss chronometers in accuracy and fits into the most miniaturized modules." said Vashist. "SiTime's goal is to deliver game-changing timing devices that transform the industry. Our success in delivering this vision is why we are the largest provider of MEMS timing solutions."

Since its founding in 2005, SiTime has sold over 400 million devices, 60 million of which were sold into the wearables, IoT and mobile market segments. Shipments doubled from 2014 to 2015 and Vashist expects them to double again in 2016. SiTime's dual-sourced MEMS die come from both Bosch and Tower Jazz, with its programmable analogue ICs manufactured by TSMC and with assembly triple-sourced from Carsem, UTAC and ASE.

Why not smartphones

Since MEMS oscillators are lower power, smaller foot print and lighter than quartz crystals, then why haven't Apple, Samsung and the other first tier smartphone makers gone to them? The answer is simple according to Yole.

"SiTime is really the last one and they are doing very well, but what was expected two or three years ago!that they would push quartz out of the key business spot!smartphones!has not happened," Eloy told us. "Apple, Samsung an the others are still using quartz oscillators, even though they are a little bigger, because they need the precision."

SiTime claims high-precision with parts like its recent Super-TCXO but according to Yole, the smartphone makers want the old-school mass production ability and the precision edge that quartz provides, and are will to pay the price. In fact, Epson!the biggest quartz crystal provider!has realised this and is producing oscillators just a few sub?ms larger and slightly higher in price in its line called Q-MEMS.

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Figure 3: The majority of SiTimes MEMS timing chips use not in smartphones, as Yole confirmed, but in smaller Internet of Things devices like smartwatches and soon to be a boon for even smaller wearables in 2016. (Source: SiTime)

"The same thing happened in the accelerometer and gyroscope markets, it took 10-years to make them 100-times more precise than the original models," Eloy told us. "SiTime's MEMS oscillators are much better than a few years ago, but now they need to improve their precision and their frequency range to capture design wins in the smartphone market."

In the meantime, Epson is encroaching on the MEMS accelerometer and gyroscope markets, by making models based on quartz with superior precision abilities, but Yole says the markets are so huge and diversified that the MEMS makers do not need to fear, there will always be room for both types, according to Eloy.

-R. Colin Johnson,
??EE Times

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