Cadence To Buy NI’s AWR Unit For $160M

Deal adds mmWave design technology for Cadence, and bigger opportunity for NI’s test equipment.


Cadence signed a deal to buy National Instruments’ AWR business unit for about $160 million in cash, a move that Cadence describes as a way to broaden its market into intelligent system design.

AWR’s strength is high-frequency RF design automation tools, particularly in the millimeter wave and microwave spectrums, which are critical for radar and 5G. Both of those technologies are expected to be important in future generations of cars and robotics. AWR also has technology for III-V material design, which is critical for silicon photonics.

Cadence, meanwhile, has been pushing into high-speed communications in packaging and between systems using optical technology. 5G mmWave is a piece of that high-speed communications picture, but the market for mmWave design and verification has been something of a moving target. In fact, NI only recently unveiled a way to do over-the-air validation testing of mmWave quickly enough to make it commercially viable. That has made design and verification of the chips themselves more important, and this is where AWR can help.

Integrating AWR technology into Cadence’s design and analysis tools could help spur 5G mmWave technology. And that, in turn, would drive more business for NI’s 5G test technology. This helps explain why Cadence and NI are collaborating on a design-to-test flow that includes modeling, mixed-signal design and verification, pre-silicon chip validation, bring-up characterization and production test.

Fig. 1: Who does what. Source: NI/Cadence

“This strategic alliance brings together the Cadence and NI, which provide the leading pre-silicon design and verification platform and post-silicon validation platforms respectively for analog/mixed-signal and RF IC’s,” said George Zafiropoulos, vice president of solutions marketing at NI. “Working together we can build a seamless flow that helps accelerate our common customers’ time to market.”

Using the millimeter wave portion of the wireless spectrum poses a number of challenges. Signals attenuate quickly. They don’t bend around corners, like sub-6GHz 5G signals, meaning communication needs to be line-of-sight. Otherwise, repeaters are required, including inside of buildings. Objects and even weather can interrupt those signals, so multiple signals need to form beams around those objects. All of that means much more complicated designs, and lots more silicon.

Despite those limitations, 5G fills a void for high-speed communication. And as 5G mmWave begins rolling out, particularly in places such as China for autonomous vehicles and South Korea and Japan, as well as for smart infrastructure, systems will require the same tools capabilities that have been developed for chips developed at the most advanced nodes. All of the major EDA players have recognized this shift and have been putting in place capabilities for designing, verifying and debugging larger systems, and systems of systems.

“With intelligent system design, we’re going up the stack,” said Wilbur Luo, vice president of product management in Cadence’s Custom IC & PCB Group. “So we’ve been strong in custom chips and analog RF, but now with AWR, we also get the high-frequency part.”

Cadence and NI have been collaborating since last year to improve chip design through better testing of next-gen wireless. The companies also uncorked a deal to create reusable test IP in conjunction with simulation for test.

This is not the first time that Cadence has explored the possibility of buying AWR. In 2011, when NI purchased AWR, Cadence also weighed a possible purchase of that company.

“At the time, Cadence was focused on a pure semiconductor play,” said Glen Clark, corporate vice president for R&D in Cadence’s Custom IC & PCB Group. “We were not able to leverage all of the value that AWR brings at that time. What’s changed is that now we see a growing need for millimeter wave technology.”

The deal is expected to close in Q1 of 2020, subject to regulatory approvals. Cadence said it expects to fully integrate AWR’s tools with its own design and analysis tools. It also will add about 100 AWR employees as part of the purchase.

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