Catalyzing Wireless Innovation

New R&D Expertise Drives Long-Term Commercial Success

New R&D Expertise Drives Long-Term Commercial Success

Canadian Company: SiGe Semiconductor (now Skyworks Solutions, Inc.)

Israeli Company: Altair Semiconductor

Sector: Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

Challenge

In our technology-driven society, mobile device users take wireless connectivity for granted. We trust that smart phones, tablets and laptops will immediately connect to a network or the Internet. WiFiTM is the standard wireless system that provides such access, but it is a short-range system that only allows connections for users who are within several hundred metres of the wireless service point.

In 2008, the technical world was buzzing with the promise of Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) as a next-generation technology for enhanced wireless connectivity. This long-range system proposed to enable users to connect to an Internet connection up to several kilometres away.

With a focus on the potential of this new communications standard to improve the capability and experience of wireless users, companies around the world raced to address the technical challenges that limited its uptake. Among the most prominent issues: the power required for data transmission and reception over an extended wireless range. An Israeli and a Canadian company aimed to address this challenge and develop a complete WiMAX solution that delivered more power with greater efficiency.  Although the promise of WiMAX waned with LTE (Long Term Evolution) emerging as the 4th generation of wireless communication, this collaboration delivered long-term benefit to both firms.

Objective

With support from the Ontario-Israel Collaboration Program managed by CIIRDF, this R&D project brought together:

  • Altair Semiconductor, a leading developer of ultra-low power, small footprint and high performance 4G chips for LTE based in Israel; and
  • SiGe Semiconductor (now Skyworks Solutions, Inc.), a multinational innovator of high-performance analog semiconductors with an R&D team in Canada.

The companies aspired to develop a highly efficient power amplifier (a device that amplifies the power of an electrical signal) that incorporated the WiMAX communication standard into hand-held mobile devices. SiGe designed, prototyped, and tested versions of the amplifier, and Altair successfully evaluated and integrated SiGe’s prototypes with their solutions.

Outcomes

The lessons learned from this CIIRDF R&D project have generated new market opportunities for both companies.

Steve Kovacic, Former Technology Director at SiGe Semiconductor; Director of Technology, Skyworks Solutions, Inc.

“As a direct result of our CIIRDF project, SiGe gained 30 percent market share for WiFi power amplifiers for laptop USB ports, generating $10 million per year. This helped to catalyze its acquisition by Skyworks Solutions in 2011. This $290 million deal enabled us to maintain our talent base in Ottawa, and grow the capabilities of our team. By the time of the acquisition, SiGe had shipped wireless technology solutions valued at about $400 million. CIIRDF played a key role in this success. We aimed to generate higher radio frequency (RF) power within our amplifiers than anything we had ever designed before. While working towards this goal, we learned about the limitations of our technology. This forced us to be creative, leading to the development of a novel methodology that reduced design time and cost by 50 percent. We save more than $200,000 per year from this CIIRDF learning alone.  Today, Skyworks is guiding for revenue of $718 million for the fourth quarter of our current fiscal year.”

David Hasenfeld, Finance Executive, Altair Semiconductor

“This CIIRDF project enabled our company to develop new expertise and gain valuable power amplifier technology experience. Although this CIIRDF project focused on WiMAX, we apply the knowledge acquired during this project to various other technology areas we are involved in. Our collaboration with SiGe accelerated our progression into LTE.”