Interview with Piyush Sevalia from SiTime

  • Piyush Sevalia - Executive Vice President, Marketing

everything RF Interviewed Piyush Sevalia, Executive Vice President, Marketing for SiTime. He joined SiTime in 2008 to pursue the vision of transforming the $6 billion timing industry. At SiTime, Piyush and his team are responsible for helping SiTime create and launch the industry’s best timing products, ensuring that customers have an exceptional experience with SiTime, managing the product lifecycle as well as all aspects of marketing communications and industry analyst relations. Since 2008, Piyush has helped grow SiTime from a pre-revenue startup to a fast-growing leader with over 90% share of MEMS timing.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of SiTime? When the company was founded and the objective behind it?

SiTime began operations in 2005 with the vision of transforming the timing industry with groundbreaking silicon MEMS timing solutions–and we delivered. Within a year, we launched our first products and have continued to grow at a fast pace by bringing innovation, performance, flexibility, and reliability to the decades-old timing market.

In 2014, SiTime was acquired by Megachips Corporation, a publicly-traded fabless semiconductor company based in Japan. At $200 million, the acquisition was 10 times our revenue and was the largest premium paid for a private semiconductor company in that year. With SiTime’s rapid growth since the acquisition, Megachips is now on its way to realize its mission of being a top fabless semiconductor company.

Today, we have more than 70 product families that we sell to over 11,000 customers worldwide via 60 channel partners. SiTime’s timing products are used in over 200 applications in all major market segments. We’ve shipped over a billion units, have over 90% share of the MEMS timing market, and are among the fastest growing semiconductor companies.

SiTime overview – The heartbeat of electronics

Q. What products does SiTime develop?

SiTime offers MEMS-based silicon timing solutions that are designed to solve unique timing problems and enable end products and system performance that wouldn’t otherwise be available without our technology. Our configurable solutions allow customers to differentiate their products with higher performance, smallest size, lowest power, and best reliability and quality. The rich feature set and flexibility of SiTime’s solutions optimize system performance and allow customers to consolidate their supply chain, reducing the cost of ownership and time to market. By using standard semiconductor processes, high-volume packaging, and a programmable architecture, SiTime offers the best availability and shortest lead times in the industry.

MEMS timing solutions bring unique benefits that are not offered by traditional timing solutions. In particular, the 5G and communications, automotive, and IoT markets will greatly benefit from the size, reliability, and performance of SiTime’s MEMS timing solutions. In networking and communications, timing and synchronization is essential to the entire system. The resiliency of MEMS timing provides unfailing performance that is critical for the deployment of 5G as it rolls out into less controlled, harsher environments. The same need for reliability and dynamic performance is driving the growing use of MEMS resonators in automotive, where systems must operate dependably in challenging conditions. In IoT, MEMS timing provides small size, low power, and low weight.

MEMS timing solutions designed to solve the most difficult timing problems

Q. Can you tell us why timing devices/circuits are important and a little about today’s market opportunity?

Timing devices and circuits are important because they are the heartbeat of all electronic devices. The market for these devices is currently $6 billion, and it is growing at an annual rate of 3-5%. Moreover, as new technologies in 5G, IoT, and automotive applications further drive growth and innovation, an additional 200 billion unit opportunity for timing components will emerge in the next decade.

Virtually every electronic product requires at least one precision timing circuit. Depending on complexity, electronic devices may require as many as 50 to 75 separate clocks. For example, a typical smart phone or tablet has up to five clock sources. In automobiles, the number of timing devices has increased rapidly over the past few years and contain as many as 75 devices today.

Q. What are MEMS-based timing circuits? What are their advantages over timing devices based on quartz crystals?

Our revolutionary timing solutions combine silicon MEMS resonators with innovative analog technology. Together with our systems expertise, these technologies deliver products that are transforming the timing market. Compared to quartz, SiTime products offer up to 30 times better performance, 50% smaller size, 40% lower power, 20 times better reliability, and 50 times better quality. Along with these benefits, SiTime products also offer in-system programmability and other tools to simplify and optimize product design.

Q. In your view will MEMS timing devices replace crystal oscillators, or will they both co-exist and cater to different segments of the industry? How do you expect the timing market to play out over the next few years?

At SiTime, we focus on the customer requirements for each application individually, therefore innovating and delivering solutions that bring unique benefits. Emerging applications from 5G, automotive, and edge computing to machine learning and artificial intelligence will greatly benefit from the size, reliability, and performance of MEMS timing solutions. MEMS timing can replicate the success of siliconization in other industries. Siliconization has revolutionized industries - examples include how digital cameras replaced film cameras and fundamentally changed photography, Solid state drives replaced hard disk drives enabling digital storage and miniaturization in consumer electronics, and transistors and ICs replaced vacuum tubes and enabled the electronics industry to grow rapidly.

Despite inherent limitations, crystal-based resonators and oscillators have been used as the reference timing in electronics for several decades. SiTime’s MEMS oscillators overcome these limitations and offer advantages over traditional quartz crystal technology that include:

  1. Plug-and-play solutions that simplify system design
  2. Much better quality and reliability
  3. 65% less board space
  4. Driving multiple loads
  5. Less sensitive to EMI
  6. Immunity to vibration
  7. Availability in any frequency
  8. Easier qualification

These benefits are explained further in our white paper: The top 8 reasons to use an oscillator instead of a crystal resonator.

Q. Can you tell us more about the MEMS fabrication process? Since this is not very common, did you have to develop this from scratch? Does SiTime have a fab or are you fabless?

Continuous innovation across development, manufacturing, and business is the hallmark of SiTime’s success. SiTime uses a fabless business model to manufacture resonators using our patented MEMS First™ process. The advantages of the MEMS First process include:

  • 100% single-crystal silicon material, which is extremely predictable
  • Industry standard process control and 6 sigma philosophy for manufacturability, high yield, quality, and reliability
  • High-temperature in-process encapsulation to protect the MEMS structure for best stability, ultra-small drift, small size, reliability, and quality
  • Standard IC backend (packaging and test) for a scalable supply chain, multiple sources, and lowest costs
  • Monolithic integration of CMOS with MEMS is possible

SiTime’s MEMS First process yields extremely high quality resonators

Q. What market segments do you service? Which is your largest segment? Do you expect this to change in the years to come?

SiTime provides benefits and solutions for all major electronics market segments. We expect that communications-5G, automotive, and mobile-IoT electronics will drive innovation in the electronics industry over the next few years. These applications will require more stringent timing, and we expect to see rapid adoption of SiTime’s MEMS timing solutions in these markets.

Q. Where are your customers and teams located?

We sell to over 11,000 customers across the globe through a large network of channel partners. In addition to our headquarters in Santa Clara, California and our teams in Ukraine, Russia, Malaysia, and Taiwan, SiTime has recently expanded by adding new development teams in Michigan, the Netherlands, and Japan.

Q. Can you tell us about your recent major announcement, the Emerald Platform?

The Emerald Platform™ is the first MEMS oven controlled oscillator (OCXO) and is designed to solve critical timing challenges for 5G infrastructure equipment. With the Emerald Platform, operators can deploy 5G equipment in harsh environments and reliably offer mission-critical services. By combining SiTime’s revolutionary MEMS with programmable analog, innovative packaging, and high-performance algorithms, we’ve created a solution that is up to 20 times better than what is currently available.

OCXOs provide the pinnacle of performance in timing and are critical to the reliable operation of all communications networks. However, quartz-based OCXOs are extremely sensitive to environmental stressors such as vibration, temperature changes and shock, which can degrade network performance, reduce uptime, and impact mission-critical services such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). SiTime’s precision Emerald OCXOs solve these problems.

Emerald Platform OCXOs designed for 5G infrastructure deployed in any environment

Q. Can you explain more how about MEMS-based timing solves problems?

Our technology is designed to overcome difficult dynamic conditions, both in the external environment and within the system. Because of the sensitivity of legacy quartz OCXOs, customers have to take many precautions to ensure reliable operation. A key challenge is the board placement of the OCXO, which needs to be located far away from stressors such as heat and airflow-induced thermal shock. This results in increased routing complexity and potential signal integrity problems. Designers have also tried using specialized plastic OCXO covers for thermal isolation, which introduces additional manufacturing steps and production complexity. Emerald MEMS OCXOs eliminate all of these problems; they simplify design, reduce development time, accelerate revenue while improving system performance.

Legacy quartz OCXOs are custom built from the ground up and have severe limitations in features, such as frequencies, output types, operating temperature, and in-system control. SiTime’s Emerald OCXOs do not have these limitations. Using a programmable analog architecture, the Emerald Platform offers any frequency between 1 and 220 MHz, ensuring that the customer can select the optimal frequency for their application. The device also offers two output types, LVCMOS and clipped sine-wave, for optimal board performance. In the near future, the Emerald OCXO will also offer extended temperature operation (-40 to +95C, -40 to +105C) and an I2C serial interface for in-system programmability.

Q. Where do you see the market moving?

The communications-5G, automotive, and IoT markets are driving rapid innovation in electronics to satisfy the high demand for bandwidth, data, automation, and AI. In each of these markets, electronics are being used in new deployment scenarios. We expect that mission-critical services such as ADAS over 5G will be deployed in the next few years. Such applications need timing components that offer the highest in-system dynamic performance and reliability. SiTime’s MEMS timing devices provide an order of magnitude better performance than legacy quartz-based devices, and that is why we are being selected by customers to solve such new and stringent timing requirements.  We’re working closely with industry leaders such as Intel and Bosch to secure the future of the timing industry.

Q. What are the key drivers for timing in these three markets?

The comms-5G market is expected to have significant capital expenditures by 2023. Our precision products are being designed into 4G+ and 5G networks where timing and synchronization is essential to the entire system – from the backhaul to the fronthaul. Additionally, the 5G radio is expected to cover several hundreds of meters, while 4G radios covered several kilometers. Hence, 5G equipment will be deployed in harsher uncontrolled environments such as on buildings, street lamps, and traffic lights, where systems will be subject to harsh environmental stressors such as vibration, shock, high temperature, and rapid temperature change. If timing is not reliable, mission-critical services will be shut down. The resiliency of SiTime’s MEMS timing will provide reliable performance in such 5G deployments and will ensure that carriers are able to offer new and essential services. As a result of our unique benefits, SiTime is collaborating with Intel to deliver solutions for 5G.

Because vehicles also operate in very challenging environments, they require the same need for reliability and dynamic performance. This is driving the use of MEMS timing solutions in critical automotive applications such as ADAS computing, camera sensors, and precision GNSS. Automation is accelerating the use of timing devices in vehicles, and this is quickly scaling up in number.

In Mobile-IoT applications, our miniaturized products, which are up to 50% smaller than competing solutions, are used in smartphones, portable medical devices, fitness trackers, and many other systems that require small size and reliable timing. In addition, SiTime’s products can enable the low-power and 10-year battery life that is required by most Mobile-IoT electronics.

SiTime’s target markets and key drivers

Q. How do these market changes affect the growth and plans of SiTime?

SiTime’s approach is to take a systems view to timing, which enables us to solve systems-level problems for our customers. Our success comes from the expertise and integration of highly-inventive MEMS, analog, algorithms, and packaging. This systems-based strategy has led SiTime to grow at a much faster rate than the overall timing market, or for that matter, the semiconductor market.

The capabilities of our team and technology enable an almost limitless vision of what we can build. This shapes our product development strategy that focuses on providing unique value to our customers. We will continue to release new, innovative solutions that set new performance benchmarks and offer unique value to the communications-5G, automotive and mobile-IoT markets.

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