This autumn is the 100th anniversary of a huge milestone in aviation – the first US Transcontinental Flight. On September 17th 1911 Cal Rodgers lifted off in his Right Flyer from Sheepshead Bay near New York City. On November 5th he landed in Pasadena California near Los Angeles. It took him 69 stops, of which about a third were crashes. Cal believed he could do something that had never been done before and then he did it. Cal’s transcontinental flight was both astounding and unexpected, and few people thought he would make it. He survived storms, hard landings, and an engine explosion – and he founded a new industry.

What is the connection to SiTime? It is that new ideas do not evolve incrementally; they burst on the scene exponentially. It took only ten years to develop an airline industry after this heroic pilot crashed his way across the country. Initially airlines delivered the mail, then soon people.

And who were the losers? The railroads. Before the airlines trains dominated mail delivery and transportation. Who today has letters delivered by train? Who travels across the US by train?

Was this foreseen by the railroad companies? Did they invest in airlines to maintain their control of transportation markets?  No. The airlines were started by entrepreneurs driven to do something new, not by railroad execs.

When industries change the incumbents rarely generate the change, and even less often manage the change. This is the case with MEMS oscillators. The companies driving this are not the incumbent quartz oscillator companies. The MEMS oscillator companies are started and run by entrepreneurs driven to do something new.

Now there are some exceptions to the rule. IBM and HP are examples of companies that have prospered across technology changes. But for every company that bridges the change there are many that don’t. And so time will tell how it works out in this case. It is likely that a few wise quartz companies will find ways to stay in the game, but most will not.

This June we began sampling our Encore-based oscillators, and in just four months we have delivered thousands of parts and registered scores of design wins. This is the most interest in a new product family we have seen, and it is showing the highest-ever conversion rate from samples to design wins.

Encore is our newest technology platform. With Encore we can build oscillators with 40 dB lower phase noise, 20x better frequency accuracy, and 100x better short term stability. We can build XOs, TCXOs, VCXOs, DCXOs, and a bunch of special functions. For example, we are sampling SiT8208’s and 8209’s, the world’s only MEMS oscillators with sub-picosecond 12 kHz to 20 MHz integrated phase jitter; and we are sampling SiT5000, 5001, and 5002’s, the world’s only sub-ppm MEMS TCXOs. These parts don’t just squeak by with one picosecond integrated jitter or one ppm accuracy, they typically are delivering half that.

While these are the world’s only MEMS oscillators with these capabilities, their performance levels are also rare in the quartz field. Quartz oscillators with sub-picosecond integrated jitter are often advertised as “extremely low jitter”, and not everyone can build them. On the accuracy side, sub-ppm TCXOs are also rare, and not everyone can build them either.

How can we develop oscillators in just a couple of years that most quartz companies can’t develop after decades? I describe this in my last post, but here is another way to look at it: It is because our technology is based on modern semiconductors and is highly leveraged; while in comparison the quartz oscillator technology is specialized and far less leveraged. We design our products within software ecosystems we don’t have to write because others have come before us and already written and tested them. We build our parts in billion dollar fabs that we don’t need to own because we leverage the huge investments of semiconductor companies. We package and test our parts in standard IC packages with standard tooling in standardized factories that we don’t need to build because we leverage a standard IC production infrastructure.

None of this works for the quartz guys. When they need to design new parts they don’t have an industrial design infrastructure supporting them but are mostly on their own. When they need to build their quartz blanks they must build their own specialized fabs. When they need to package and test their parts they must buy specialized equipment for their own specialized facilities. This takes time, soaks up capital, and hinders innovation.

The net result is that we innovate faster and push our technology further that the quartz incumbents. We move in strides in an industry where progress has been measured in steps.

Occasionally a company makes a shift from one capability to a higher capability where that shift seems unexplainable to an outside viewer. The company does what people had thought it would not or could not do. These are often called quantum leaps because a viewer sees the company starting in one place and appearing at another without any visible intermediate steps. This can happen with particles under quantum physics, hence the name.

SiTime has just made such a quantum leap. We are now sampling 0.5 ppm TCXOs and we seem to have leaped from 10 ppm and skipped years of intermediate steps at 5 ppm, 2.5 ppm 2.0 ppm, and 1 ppm. How is this possible? It took quartz decades to step through these grades. What is behind this quantum leap?

Well, the answer is not a secret. It is the same as I have been writing and speaking about for years. It is simply that SiTime is an IC company, acts like an IC company, works like an IC company, and thinks like an IC company. That means we live under Moore’s law. Generation over generation we deliver more capability, more precision, and more value.

Yesterday I read an article in an electronics trade magazine in which a quartz oscillator exec was quoted as saying, “The rapid development of MEMS oscillators is also the choice of all new volume applications where a mere clock facility is required and the oscillator is fabricated into the silicon.” I’m happy enough with the first clause – we are the choice of all new volume applications. But the second clause – that MEMS in only suitable to supply a mere clock facility – is not right. SiTime now has high precision and also low jitter oscillators that are well beyond mere clocks.

SiTime has just made one of those rare quantum leaps.  We have appeared where we were not expected.

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