This is the first in a series of CEO interviews and I thought semiconductor IP would be a great place to start. Xerxes Wania is the President and CEO of Sidense, a leading developer of Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) One-Time Programmable (OTP) IP cores. Sidense has been a part of SemiWiki since 2013 so we know them quite well. I hope the rest of the CEO interviews are as engaging as this one:
What are the challenges facing IP providers today?
A big challenge for any IP provider is understanding a particular customer’s requirements and providing the product and service to meet those requirements. Every IP implementation is in a different system environment, in other words, on a different chip. This means that we need to have a good system-level understanding of the customer’s design along with good communication with the customer to assist in their use of our IP.
This brings up a second problem – lack of an industry-wide quality standard for IP user acceptance of a piece of IP. Customers each have their own quality acceptance criteria, so at Sidense we have a good understanding of what this criteria is and work with the customer, as needed, to meet their requirements.
A specific issue facing providers of hardened IP (like OTP) is having qualified / proven IP available at the time the customer wants to tape out their design. This is compounded since customers want flexibility to move between foundries and fabs for price and or capacity reasons. Sidense addresses this issue by anticipating the intersection between its own roadmaps and that of the customer and by fostering close relationships with the foundries so it gets early access to Spice and PDK information.
What is driving the accelerating growth in OTP adoption?
Several factors; namely the continued growth of electronic-based products (and at only 2% world-wide GDP, there is still a lot of room for further growth) and increasing use of ICs in newer applications such as the Internet of Things and automotive. The latter brings its own challenges like compliance with new safety standards and higher temperature of operation. Chip designers are also realizing that there is not a “one size fits all” in memory. Embedded memory has many uses – code and key storage, analog and sensor calibration and trimming, device configuration, secure key storage and device identification. Our 1T-OTP memory has many benefits when compared to alternative NVM technologies – these include high security, high reliability, low implementation cost, low power and field programmability. Customers are recognizing the advantages of using our OTP in their chip designs in accelerated time to market and increased end-customer satisfaction.
2015 was a record year for M&A activity and it appears that 2016 has been picking up recently. How do all these Mergers and Acquisitions affect small IP providers like Sidense?
2015 was remarkable, not in the number of mergers and acquisitions – 30 – but in the total dollar amount – $102B. 2016 started more slowly, but the M&A pace has definitely picked up over the past few months. M&A activity is driven by several factors – economies of scale, access to new markets and technologies, financial advantages (i.e., cheap money for borrowing) and government regulations. When these factors are favorable, as is the case in 2015 and so far in 2016, M&A activity increases.
However, M&As are a mixed bag for the small IP company. If one of the M&A companies is a currently a customer, you might end up licensing the other company by default. Another scenario is that a company already has the technology you offer, or a strong bond with an alternative supplier, in this case you lose out.
Which markets do you feel offer the most and best opportunities for your NVM products over the next few years and why? Is there a killer app somewhere in these markets?
At Sidense, we see great potential in the mobile and automotive markets in both the near and long term. While cell phone sales have plateaued, they still represent very large markets, particularly in the APAC region and specifically in China, and India. Much of the expected growth in IoT depends on a mobile communication device to control and read IoT edge devices. As is the case with most Smart Connected devices security, high reliability and low power are important 1T-OTP attributes valued by our customers.
As for the automotive market, automotive electrification and autonomous vehicles are leading analysts to project a CAGR over the next 5-6 years of around 6%. PMICs for power controllers, displays and other automotive systems provide a huge opportunity for OTP, as does the ramping up of more complex infotainment and more rigorous safety standards. At Sidense, we have developed 1T-OTP macros for implementation in high voltage and BCD process nodes, as well as qualifying products up to the AEC-Q100 Grade 0 operating temperature specification of 150°C for “under the hood” and transmission systems. We are also working on meeting ISO-9001, ISO 26262 Functional Safety and other automotive requirements and standards for our OTP macros.
As for a “killer app,” I don’t think there is consensus on one or two in the foreseeable future. Some to keep an eye on, however, include Augmented Reality displays, Healthcare monitoring wearables, Smart Home controllers and Smart City management.
As IoT development continues to accelerate, security for IoT devices is lagging. What is Sidense doing to help enhance security for the ICs in which your 1T-OTP macros are embedded?
We are addressing IoT and other Smart Connected market-segment concerns in several ways. Within Sidense, along with the intrinsic highly secure properties of the 1T-OTP bit cell, which does not use charge storage to determine a bit-cell state and whose programming is irreversible, we have several ways of implementing anti-hacking mechanisms in our OTP macros to provide a secure NVM system architecture. These include de-layering protection, redundant and differential read modes, program locks, hidden address sectors and temperature compensation, just to name a few. We are also partnering with companies whose core competencies include securing silicon assets and have had our 1T-OTP security confirmed by multiple independent laboratories.
Autonomous cars are a hot topic. What do you see as the major challenges in bring a fully autonomous car to the market place and how can Sidense OTP help meet these challenges?
Autonomous vehicles are indeed a hot topic, but there are several obstacles to overcome. These include government compliance and automotive industry requirements (which are still in flux), various technical issues and driver attitudes (do I want to give up control of my car?). Even more than now security will be a concern as cars become more connected, car-to-car, car-to-person and car-to-cloud, as they become autonomous driving machines.
Sidense 1T-OTP will be used in many applications to store secure code and update it when necessary, store secure encryption keys, and trim and calibrate analog circuitry and the many sensors the vehicle will employ. As the number of sensors in a car continues to increase, and we feel that the move to autonomous vehicles will sharply increase the number of sensors per car, the need for secure, low power and reliable Sidense 1T-OTP will rise as well
What innovations are Sidense working on that you would like to share with SemiWiki subscribers?
It’s a great time to be at Sidense, there is a lot going on. And it is not just limited to new technology developments, but to the many changes related to being a successful and growing company. Recruitment, staff development, infrastructure, processes, and facilities all need careful consideration and deployment.
In response to some of your prior questions I hinted at some of the exciting developments underway here at Sidense: Developments that include low voltage operation, products capable of providing high reliability over elevated temperature and enabling advanced security features. But we should also not forget development at advanced nodes such as 16, 10 and 7nms. I could go on but will finish by saying the future looks bright and exciting for Sidense and our customers.