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.

One year ago this week I wrote that SiTime had cumulatively shipped 20 million units, and now I can write that we have cumulatively shipped 50 million units. Each year we ship more than we have shipped to date. This is quite exceptional in an industry that compounds at five to ten percent a year on the whole.  Of course the reason SiTime is succeeding is because MEMS is displacing quartz.

The incumbent quartz oscillator companies did not see this coming; they did not expect this could happen. I understand their thinking though, since it would seem highly unlikely that a strong industry with an entrenched technology could be displaced. But actually it is common; in fact it is the rule rather than the exception. It happens in every human endeavor, in every technology we invent, and in every industry we build.

One example I have recently been thinking about is the steam locomotive industry, and in particular Baldwin Locomotive Works. Baldwin was a hugely successful locomotive manufacturer founded in the 1830’s. In my opinion it built the most beautiful steam locomotives ever designed. Baldwin built the first locomotives in the United State and refined its technology to where it had an intrinsic beauty. This was a pinnacle of high technology and was responsible for tremendous socioeconomic change in the United States. Standing near these engines today I am always impressed, and to be near an operating one is an experience that one remembers.

But Baldwin didn’t understand how diesel locomotives could replace steam. In the early 1900′s it failed to grasp the key thing that made diesel important: Diesel was supported by a huge and growing industrial infrastructure forming around the internal combustion engine. This infrastructure included vast investments in engines and fuel. The steam infrastructure was dwarfed by comparison. Since Baldwin could not leverage the internal combustion engine it chose instead to emphasize powerful mainline steam engines, developing ever larger brutes to compete with the new yet still smaller diesel engines.

But within a few decades diesel engines grew in power, exceeded steam in durability, and became less expensive to operate. The story ended poorly for Baldwin when it eventually tried to transition to diesel but hedged too much and moved too late. It finally failed unceremoniously in the 1970’s. This happened to all the American steam locomotive manufacturers: Baldwin, Alco, Lima, Porter, and others, all gone or parted out.

A similar thing is now happening in the quartz oscillator industry. They can’t leverage the growing strength of CMOS and the silicon fab industry, and they are not making the transition. In one sense, what SiTime is doing is revolutionary – we are replacing an industry. In another sense what we are doing is common – we are turning the page on an old way of doing things and starting a new page with a better way of doing things.

Learn more about SiTime’s Products – MEMS Oscillators

SiTime is now introducing the world’s highest performance MEMS oscillators, the SiT8208 and SiT8209. They exceed the performance of the quartz incumbents with exceptionally low jitter, low phase noise, low Allan deviation, wide frequency range, and superb stability. But the important point of this post is that our rate of improvement generation over generation is very fast and still accelerating.

SiTime introduced the world’s first MEMS oscillator, the SiT8002, in 2007. Since then, we developed and introduced two additional generations; the SiT8102, the first high performance programmable MEMS oscillator with 10 PPM stability and wide output frequency, and the SiT8003, the world’s lowest power programmable oscillator.

In the four years since 2007, we have shipped over 50 Million oscillators into consumer, computing, networking and industrial applications. Along the way, we developed a range of derivative products, such as the world’s lowest jitter spread spectrum parts (SiT9001), the world’s first spread spectrum differential oscillators (SiT9002), the world’s first differential MEMS oscillators (SiT9102 and SiT9107), the world’s lowest power high frequency oscillators (SiT8004), and the world’s thinnest oscillators (SiT8003XT). We also introduced the world’s first multi-output MEMS clock generators (SiT9103, SIT9104 and SiT9105).

And now, with the SiT8208 and SiT8209, we’re offering higher performance, more features, and revolutionary innovation. Our fourth generation in five years. These new oscillators have 12 kHz to 20 MHz integrated jitter of 600 femtoseconds, frequency stability of 10 ppm over -40 to +85C, and output frequencies from 1 to 220 MHz. They include a range of programmable features, for instance output drive strength and supply voltage, and are available in standard packages. This is a huge accomplishment and implies a whole list in signal quality and integrity successes. These replace high-end quartz oscillators for low frequencies, overtone oscillators for high frequencies, and SAW oscillators for low jitter. There are no quartz oscillators that can concurrently serve these needs or meet these specs.

These parts are targeted at applications that require exceptional quality clocks. Examples include multi-gigabit asynchronous transceivers such as 10GbE, GbE, SATA, SAS, Infiniband, Fibre Channel, PCI Express, and USB3.0; synchronous telecom applications such as SONET and Synchronous Ethernet (SynchE); wireline applications including xDSL, PLC, and DOCSIS; and wireless applications including WiFi and WiMax.

The point is that we are innovating faster than the incumbents in the quartz industry. Unlike quartz, our products incorporate highly evolved circuits and use semiconductor manufacturing techniques, allowing us to drive higher performance and improved features at a very fast rate.

© 2011 SiTime Corporation Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha