We are in the early stages of a historic change in the timing industry. This change is important and will impact the majority of electronic products. It is worth writing about and worth reading about.
I will discuss this change and the new timing industry it is creating. I will describe how Silicon Timing, with MEMS at its core, is replacing Quartz Timing. I will describe how it will grow to impact crystals, oscillators, clock generators, clock distribution, and nearly all facets of electronic timing.
Here is the back story: Quartz crystals oscillators are used to build precise clock oscillators for electronic systems.They sequence computation and communications in the vast majority of electronic products, with about fourteen billion units sold this year. Quartz is available as resonators and oscillators. When people say “crystals” they are referring to passive resonators that must be electronically driven with external circuitry. When people say “oscillators” they mean active components that include resonators with drive circuitry in one or two packages. Quartz crystals and oscillators were first developed in 1920 and have been slowly and steady improved.
Silicon Timing is now replacing Quartz Timing. In Silicon Timing the precision timing signals are made by silicon resonators and silicon circuits. At the core of Silicon Timing is a technology called MEMS, which is an acronym for Microelectromechanical Systems. With MEMS technology we can build tiny mechanical components that sense motion, pressure, chemicals, or in this case vibrate at precise frequencies. The first MEMS oscillators were described in 1966; it has taken the intervening forty years to develop the technology and bring commercial products to market, but now Silicon Timing is commercially available and servicing a wide range of applications.
SiTime is the first company to produce commercial silicon oscillators and we lead the field.We are a spin-out of Bosch, the highly respected German automotive supplier and one of the world’s largest MEMS companies. Working at Bosch and Stanford University we developed the technology that would become SiTime. We realized that we had the final pieces of the technology necessary to make commercial Silicon Timing possible, and we set up SiTime to do that.
The figure below is an illustration of how new technologies displace old ones. It shows an incumbent with a dominant position and a new arrival growing and displacing the incumbent.The incumbent technology is not completely replaced, but usually survives in narrow applications, while the new technology grows to levels never achieved by the incumbent. We have seen this pattern repeated across every area of technology. This is how tractors replaced horses, airplanes replaced trains, transistors replaced tubes, and email replaced faxes.
This is how Silicon Timing is replacing Quartz Timing. How far along are we? Just starting.