January 16, 2006
Kilopass Finds a Niche in Embedded Non-Volatile Memory (NVM)Technology
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Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor

by Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor
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Another application is use in smart card MCU. The MCU needs to store firmware. Also some smart cards often need to store security information like personal identification data, biometric data, health data and all that.

It can also be used for storing low density content. This is usually less than 1,000 bits. There is a growing trend for SoCs to store id number somewhere in the chip. Our solution is perfect for that because it is non-volatile and uses standard CMOS. There are many applications like digital content protection to protect songs, movies and all that. Under digital content protection there is a standard called HDMI (High Definition Media Interface). This also needs to store security code as well.

Editor: HDMI is the first and only industry-supported, uncompressed, all-digital audio/video interface. HDMI provides an interface between any audio/video source, such as a set-top box, DVD player, or A/V receiver and an audio and/or video monitor, such as a digital television (DTV), over a single cable. HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) is a content protection technology available for use in connection with HDMI that was developed by Intel Corporation with help of Silicon Image.

Another possible application is analog trimming. Any analog chip can use field trimming and field calibration. With this flexibility it can really improve the performance of analog chips a lot. Our solution is ideal for that.

Would you expand upon that?

The problem with analog chips is that the performance can be very low due to process variations. The analog chip can not perform optimally because it doesn't know when it comes out of silicon where it is in the process corner. You can test the silicon in the field and memorize some of the calibration data you get, in a few bits. You can look at the silicon and find out where it is in the corners that is fast corner or slow corner. You can do self-calibration and self-trimming based upon the process corner and improve the performance of the analog chip.

Editor: Traditional analog trimming techniques include laser trimming of thin-film resistors, laser cutting of metal or polysilicon links, zener-diode zapping to adjust resistance, opening polysilicon fuses with a current, and storing bits in an EPROM or EEPROM to control a DAC to adjust currents or voltages. Each of these techniques has its own shortcomings.

LED display driver IP basically has an analog component. This is very similar to that is CMOS sensor which is an analog IP for digital cameras and cellular phones that requires field calibration capability. We are ideal for that solution.

You can also use XPM for configuration. You can set a few bits to self-configure the chip to turn on or off certain features. You can use it to store a unique chip id code to track production by part number. You can use it for memory repair to mark defective rows or columns in embedded SRAM to improve SRAM yield. Low density application is very broad, different kinds of ICs.

Would you summarize?

It is a new type of non-volatile memory based upon standard CMOS logic process.
Very scalable. It can go down to 90 nm and beyond. We will be working on 65 nm in the near future. It can be a very low cost solution. It can be very secure. Memory content is well protected. Low density for ids and high density for firmware.

What is the primary marketing target for the product?

It is very broad. In low density memory storing security codes and keys is a growing trend. Many different applications want to store codes e.g. content protection for digital entertainment. Analog IP is very broad - almost any kind of analog would have process variation issues and need field trimming and calibration. Firmware storage - embedded MCU is everywhere, used for many different applications.

In addition to flash memory is there any other type of alternative approach out there in the market?

Embedded flash is not standard logic design. There is a big difference in cost, density and scalability. Embedded flash is a much more difficult process. It is still on top of CMOS but a lot more expensive and a lot more difficult to develop and because of that not available in many places whereas standard logic CMOS is available in many different foundries because it is the most commonly used technology.

Do you see mask programmable ROM as an alternate?

By definition it is not field programmable. You need the mask set. Changing the mask set is much more difficult to manage. It makes it a totally different application. Our solution is field programmable. You can program it any where. That drives the application into a total different space.

Is there any competitor with similar technology?

Actually, if you look at CMOS embedded non-volatile memory and only CMOS with scalability, security and high density, then we are really the only solution provider that can offer all of those features.

Is there anybody else with many of those features?

Nobody can offer that combination. There are some companies like Virage that offer a solution.

The company hired Bernie Aronson as CEO last fall. What did he bring to the firm?

Bernie Aronson joined about a year ago. He is a very successful entrepreneur. He brought two companies to their IPOs. He was president of EPIC Design Technology many years ago and brought them to an IPO. He also joined Synplicity and brought them to an IPO. He was also founder and president of Pico Design. We are very fortunate and very happy to be able to recruit him to join us.

Has he changed the direction of the company?

After he joined us, we had the second round of venture funding where US Venture Partners came in. We are continuing with the product development and continuing to expand the market.

How do you sell your product? Direct sales, VARs, distributors?

We have both a direct sales force and distributors around the world.

Is that country dependent?

Yes. We are mainly selling direct in the US. We have distribution in Asia, Japan and Europe.

How do you price your product?

Anywhere from $100K. Some contracts can be multiple millions of dollars. It depends upon the business arrangement.

Is there a licensing fee and a royalty component?

Yes, there are both. The license fee depends upon the memory density.

You said that the technology could support a much higher capacity than your current offering. Is the greatest market opportunity at relatively low memory density?

Actually, at both ends. There is a lot of demand in low density and there is also demand in high density. I would say that is all across the map. So when we ship from 16 bits to a few megabits, it covers the whole market really well.

Are your sales concentrated in any one geography?

Today it is more concentrated in the US.

Do you expect that to change over time?

Yes, of course! It is more difficult to develop an international market. Among our customers is Accent, one of the largest design service company in Europe, and Global Unichip in Taiwan.

Editor: Accent, founded in 1993, is a joint venture between STMicroelectronics and Cadence. Accent is based in Europe, with offices and design facilities in Italy - Milan and Genoa - and in France. Accent staff includes more than 120 engineers. Accent is a leading design house currently ranked 6th in Europe by market research firm Future Horizons. Global Unichip Corporation is a full service SoC Design Foundry, was founded in 1998 at Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan. In 2003, TSMC became its primary shareholder.

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-- Jack Horgan, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.


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