Getting The Jump On Analog/RF IP

Palma Ceia SemiDesign creates IP library for next-gen WiFi, LTE communication.

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36c1ed_0cc7307c5b8b439199cbf6f110d3cdfbWhen Magma Design was sold to Synopsys in 2012, then-president and COO Roy Jewell sat down with VC Lucio Lanza to figure out what to do next. As Jewell tells it, Lanza convinced him not to take another job.

While it’s too early to tell if that was sage advice, it did trigger a search for a new business and a way of funding it. Jewell said that when Magma went looking for money, it raised $20 million in two weeks for its IPO. “You can’t raise $200,000 in six weeks today, so we went to friends and family and raised $1.5 million.”

Bootstrapping is becoming much more prevalent in the hardware IP world these days. As previously reported, the easy IP money has already been made. Developing IP that is valuable enough for chipmakers to pay a premium is difficult and time-consuming. And it’s a problem that is compounded because achieving a reasonable return on investment for that kind of IP takes longer than most investors are willing to wait.

Still, there is a market for analog and wireless IP, and that market is only going to grow as the IoT begins taking root. Edge devices need to communicate wirelessly, and at this point there are lots of standards in various stages of development but holes in IP libraries because much of this market is brand new. That creates a void, and Palma Ceia SemiDesign is betting it can fill at least some of it.

“The problem is that to sell IP, you have to be on the leading edge,” said Jewell. “There also is a perception of risk there, so you have to show silicon-proven IP. We have silicon back now for data converters and transceivers, so you can test circuitry to measure performance and power. The next project is 802.11ay, which will use the 60GHz spectrum for video streaming of ultra high-definition TV. “

The company already offers IP for many of  flavors of 802.11, including ac, ax and ah — the emerging standard for machine-to-machine communication.

“We began getting our first silicon in the summer of 2013 with UMC,” he said. “Since then, we’ve done silicon with TSMC, Samsung and  SMIC, which is the most aggressive and needs IP.”

Jewell noted that customers are lining up, particularly with government support in Korea and China for 802.11ah. “They just want to be able to drop in a block and move forward.”

How far forward, and how many blocks, remains to be seen. But at least for now, the market appears to have significant upside, which makes it an acceptable risk for engineers and managers with deep analog and RF skill sets.