Chipidea - Analog and Mixed-Signal IP

Introduction

In August Chipidea Microelectronica, SA issued a press release claiming to be the number one worldwide supplier of analog/mixed-signal IP according to the Gartner Dataquest Semiconductor Intellectual Property report issued in May. The firm had revenue growth of 35% in 2005 to around $20 million. In October they announced a wide portfolio of programmable sigma-delta analog-to-digital converters.

The firm is unusual in the EDA industry in that it is headquartered in Lisbon, Portugal. Jose Epifanio de Franca is the Founder and CEO. He is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Engineering University (IST = Instituto Superior Tecnico) in Lisbon, Portugal. He also founded the University's Integrated Circuits and Systems Group in 1987 and the IST Centre of Microsystems in 1994. He himself is a graduate of IST (1978) and earned a doctorate at Imperial College of Science and Technology in London in 1985. He has more than 300 publications to his credit. He was recognized by the president of Portugal "Grand Officer of the Order of Merit” and at one point he was Secretary of State for Education Resources. Franca is an IEEE Fellow. Among other things he was the General Chair of the 1998 IEEE International Conference on Electronics, Circuits and Systems, held in Lisbon, the Vice General Chair of DATE 2001, and the General Chair of DATE 2002.

A second co-founder and now Chief Technology Officer is Carlos Azeredo Leme. I had an opportunity to interview him recently.

Would you provide us with a brief biography?
I am a Ph.D. from ETH Zurich, Switzerland (1994). I joined Chipidea at its beginning. I am one of the founders. In the start I headed the IP division, one of the engineering divisions, which is now IP Solutions. For two years now I have been CTO of the company. That's basically my progression here.

The company is headquartered in Portugal. You got your Ph.D. in Switzerland. How did you get together with the other founders?
We got it together here in Portugal. The real father of all this is our CEO, Professor Franco. He was professor at the technical university here. He created a research group that had very good visibility internationally. I was part of his group since the beginning along with some of my colleagues. I got the opportunity of going abroad to a very good school for a Ph.D. Then I came back to the same research group. A couple of years later we created the company.

What was the source of the initial funding?
The company was initially funded with $35K. That was all the funding we had at the beginning. We had a big customer in Atmel, also a cofounder. Since then we have grown our customer base very drastically. During the initial years we grew almost 100% every year both in revenue and in resources. Now we have about 240 people with $20 million in revenue last year. In the meantime we have had additional capital investment in the company. Today the founders have a minority ownership.

Editor: On November 30, 2005 Chipidea announced that R Capital Technologies, an international venture capital fund managed by Rothschild invested nearly 5M� in the firm. On May 13, 2005 the firm announced that Kennet Venture Partners led a Series B funding round for a total of 12M Euro.

Would you give me an overview of the company?
Chipidea is the number 1 analog/mixed-signal IP provider according to the Gartner report since 2004. We support over 12 fabs and 45 CMOS processes with a broad array of functions. You could say that we are a one-stop-shop for mixed-signal. Chipidea can provide almost any need in analog and mixed-signal in almost any foundry and almost any process node. That's a short and concise way to describe our company. We have plenty of customers around the world including many of the leading semiconductor companies. We target communications, digital media and consumer electronics. We put a lot of attention of attention on quality. That shows in the very high level of repeat business.

The portfolio of Chipidea is distributed among three divisions: IP System Solutions that covers power management, audio, communications and RF; IP Connectivity Solutions that covers mainly USB (our most popular IP); and Data Conversion Solutions that is focused on designing better converters both ADC and DAC.

How does the revenue breakdown between these three divisions?
IP Systems Solutions and IP Connectivity Solutions are about the same with each accounting for about 2/5 of revenue and Data Conversion Solutions accounting for the last fifth.

Would you expect that revenue breakdown to continue or to shift? Would one area grow more rapidly than the others?
They are relatively stable.

Sigma-Delta converters are developed within IP System Solutions. These are highly oversampled converters. They are operating at much higher frequencies than needed. This allows us to trade-off peak performance for resolution. We can start with a lossey converter. By properly increasing the speed of operation we can obtain a very high resolution. For higher frequencies the preferred technology for converters is Nyquist, mostly pipelined over 10 MHz. Below that it is the territory of Sigma-Delta modulators. They are targeting high resolution. They are a good complement to pipelined converters. They are very popular for voice and audio applications.

Chipidea's success in this field is due to the fact that we have strong know-how in analog and mixed-signal technology. There is strong pressure from the market to develop Sigma-Delta converters. These converters have advantages over other technologies because they exploit very well the speed of the most advanced technology.

What are the target application areas?
Customers have been using Sigma-Delta converters in many applications. It supports multiple wireless, wireline and other general purpose standards, for example in cellular (GSM, GPRS, EDGE, WCDM/UMTS), in mobile television (DVB, DBM, ISDB), for power line (PLC), FM radio and other general purpose high resolutions ADCs. Our customers are IDMs (Integrated Device Manufacturers), ASIC and ASSP vendors and fabless companies.

The distinctive feature of our IP is programmability. We have a platform for sigma-delta modulators that is highly programmable in a very efficient way. We can cover signal bandwidth ranging from 100 kHz up to 5 MHz, almost two orders of magnitude with two modes of operation. It can either work in high performance mode or low power mode. In the low power mode you must trade off some performance but you have much reduced current consumption.

The decimeter filters are also highly programmable that comes naturally because they are digital. This programmability does not come at the expense of electrical characteristics. The current consumption is very competitive. The current consumption is only 4.5 mA for 64 dB resolution in 3 MHz bandwidth which is quite good. The area is also very small, less than .4 square millimeters using digital process, no special option for a node. This can be provided as a single stand alone converter or as a matched IQ-ADC pair or as the most popular version a complete analog front end. Our front end includes many functions such as analog filters, offset calibration, digital filters and so forth. It can also include PLLs for generating the over sampled clock. The configuration of the analog front end can be tailored to our customers' needs. We can provide a complete self-contained solution.

The key advantages are multimode operation, very low power consumption leading to maximized battery life, low floor area leading to low production costs. The programmability is achieved in a very efficient way, basically at no cost. It is a very robust converter because of the high oversampled nature. This means that all bands you would have on a pipelined converter get filtered out. It is much less sensitive to substrate and power supply cross talk. We have IP available today at several foundries and process nodes. We have an efficient methodology to migrate it to new technologies. This gives us a very fast time to market for new instantiations. It is a mature technology. We have been working on sigma-delta converters since the beginning of the company, 10 years now.

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