How SiTime is siliconizing the timing industry

Sunnyvale, California’s SiTime has been around for just 10 years, and while it is one of the newest MEMS companies involved in the development and manufacturing of oscillators and timing devices, it is already the largest. Yole Développement estimates that it sold $40M worth of devices in 2015, almost double the previous year. SiTime is starting to do what Knowles has done in the microphone business, and Bosch and Invensense have done in the gyroscope field. It is using MEMS technology to translate non-silicon devices – in this case quartz oscillators – into silicon products. For more information on this trend, see Yole Développement’s ‘Status of the MEMS industry 2016’ report. We have exclusively interviewed Mr. Piyush Sevalia, SiTime’s Executive Vice President of Marketing, to learn more about SiTime’s activities and outlook.  

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Yole Développement: Can you briefly introduce your company to us, its history, products, and targeted markets?

Piyush Sevalia: SiTime Corporation is a fabless MEMS and analog semiconductor company. SiTime develops and markets MEMS-based silicon timing solutions that replace legacy quartz products, namely kHz and MHz oscillators and resonators. In November 2014, SiTime was acquired by MegaChips Corporation (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6875) for $200 million in cash, making it the largest acquisition of a venture-backed semiconductor company in 2014. SiTime retains its name and operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of MegaChips. There are strong collaborations in engineering between the two companies, but they are really operating independently so far.

SiTime’s founders, Markus Lutz and Dr. Aaron Partridge, started the company in 2005 with a vision of developing game-changing MEMS and analog technology to revolutionize the $6 billion timing industry. Today, SiTime’s innovation, passion and focus has enabled it to become the overwhelming leader – we have shipped 400 million units to 1000 customers in every major market segment. We have over 90% share of the MEMS timing market, and a roadmap that extends SiTime’s MEMS technology to all timing markets.    

With a programmable architecture and over 200,000 part numbers, SiTime has the broadest timing product portfolio. It spans oscillators, including TCXO, VCXO and DCXO digitally controlled oscillators, SSXOs spread spectrum oscillators, and high-temperature/AEC-Q100 oscillators.

YD: How do you compare with other oscillator technologies, particularly MEMS-based, silicon based or quartz based?

PS: While the quartz industry has had a history of innovation over the past 60 years, we believe that MEMS timing is the technology of choice, moving forward. We believe that MEMS timing technology can provide the highest performance, smallest size, lowest power and best quality/reliability.

As EE Times recently emphasized (, SiTime is the only MEMS timing company that has achieved success. All other players have exited the market or have not introduced new products recently. SiTime is successful because of our tremendous technical innovation in MEMS, analog, and systems, that not only provides us with a multi-year lead over the competition, but also results in unique, differentiated products that offer tremendous value to customers.

Today, most of SiTime’s products are in the frequency control space, where our primary competition is quartz technology. Compared to quartz technology, SiTime benefits include:

  • Highest performance, particularly with regards to stability and jitter, especially under environmentally stressful conditions – Up to 85% smaller solution. Our kilohertz and megahertz µPower oscillators are supplied in 1.5 x 0.8 mm chip-scale packages, which are the smallest frequency control devices in the industry
  • Up to 90% lower power. Our kilohertz µPower oscillators typically consume just 1µA
  • 30x better reliability than quartz. SiTime’s mean time between failures is 1,140 million hours, based on the Arhenius formula used by the entire semiconductor industry
  • 30x better robustness, withstanding 50,000 g shock and 70 g vibration
  • Best quality, with just 1.5 defective parts per million (ppm) over 400 million units shipped

Compensated RC or LC silicon-based oscillators do not have an adequate Q to offer stability below a few hundred ppm. While three companies – SiLabs, Mobius-IDT and EO Semi – at least have tried to make silicon oscillators a success, none have been successful. That’s due to the considerable limitations of this technology – stability, jitter, and aging are just not adequate for most applications.

YD: You have achieved an impressive die size reduction compared to the smallest quartz solutions. Is this the main advantage of your technology? Which figures outperform current solutions?

PS: While die size reduction is certainly a huge advantage over quartz technology, there are other significant benefits that we offer, such as performance, low power, quality and reliability.

In terms of size reduction, die size is one factor. Small size at the oscillator component level is achieved by small die size plus the capability to use modern IC packaging technology such as wafer-level chip-scale packaging (WL-CSP). SiTime’s MEMS resonators are fully encapsulated in silicon and manufactured in CMOS fabs. Therefore, they do not have the same packaging limitations as quartz resonators. SiTime also enables smaller end products because our MEMS oscillators can replace multiple timing-related devices.  

YD: In March 2013, your SiT153x product was targeting a relatively broad frequency range: 1 Hz to 32 kHz, with a limited stability of 100 ppm. Your following product, SiT1552, released in June 2014, focused on 32 kHz frequency with an improved 10 ppm stability. Can you please comment on this evolution? What technology development efforts were needed? What market traction have you perceived?

PS: SiTime’s first MHz oscillator was introduced in 2007, and our first kHz oscillator was introduced in 2013.

In 2013, SiTime introduced the SiT153x family, which spans 1 Hz to 32.768 kHz and was the first SiTime family based on TempFlat MEMS™, a revolutionary MEMS technology that improves native kHz MEMS resonator stability to be 3 times better than kHz quartz, reduces size and power consumption.

Because improved frequency stability has a profound effect on battery life, we introduced the SiT1552, a 32-kHz TCXO also based on TempFlat MEMS™, but with temperature compensation to achieve ±10 ppm stability. We chose 32 kHz because of the wide popularity of this frequency, which easily divides down to 1-second for 1 pulse-per-second timekeeping. The SiT1552 required tremendous innovation in analog circuits, especially in temperature compensation, and system calibration to achieve the tenfold better stability over temperature. Both the SiT1552 and the SiT1532 use the same MEMS resonator. Also, both the SiT1532 and the SiT1552 required a development of the two-die CSP, possibly the first such manifestation of this technology.

As the first 1 Hz to 32.768 kHz oscillator in the smallest 1.2 mm2 footprint with 100 ppm stability and a unique NanoDrive™ output to further reduce power consumption, SiT153x products were immediately adopted in the marketplace for battery-driven, small-sized end products. SiT1552 TCXOs received similar rapid market adoption, especially for products that require higher accuracy and longer battery life such as wearables and smart energy applications.

YD: What are the trends now?

PS: We expect that the timing industry’s future growth will be driven by the rapid growth of mobile infrastructure, wearables, and the Internet of Things (IoT). The last two require significant miniaturization – through creation of modules and systems-in-packages (SiPs), which can shrink the occupied area as much as 90%. Not only are SiTime’s MEMS timing solutions up to 85% smaller than competing quartz devices – the  overmolding capability of SiTime’s Super-TCXOs makes them ideal for SiP modules and well-suited to support this trend.  

Picture product introductions

On mobile infrastructure, increasing data bandwidth will entail more accurate timing devices that are inherently immune to environmental stress, like breezy conditions, shock, vibration, high temperature and board stress. Due to the small MEMS resonator and excellent analog circuit design techniques, SiTime’s MEMS oscillators are virtually immune to such environmental stressors and outperform quartz on all metrics.

Automotive electronics and industrial markets such as installed equipment including smart meters and remote IoT devices are also rapidly growing. Quality, reliability, and environmental robustness, including shock and vibration, are important requirements and trends in these applications – again a natural fit for SiTime’s MEMS timing solutions.

YD: Since then your product portfolio has again widened with SiT8021, targeting the 1 MHz to 26 MHz frequency range and now SiT156x/7x, which you’re sampling, targeting the 1 Hz to 1 MHz frequency range. Can you explain how your technology platforms have evolved and which different applications each of your products target?

PS: SiTime has evolved its µPower lineup, including the SiT15xx and SiT8021, by expanding the frequency range, which now spans 1 Hz to 26 MHz. SiTime’s ultra-small µPower oscillators are especially important for low frequency applications since power-sensitive designs typically employ low frequency operation to lower power consumption. In contrast, with quartz-based products, physics dictates that the lower the frequency, the larger the resonator. SiTime’s small footprint offers a key advantage in low frequency designs that are often also often tight on space.

The µPower oscillators target space- and power-sensitive wearables, IoT and mobile applications. With a programmable frequency range of 1 MHz to 26 MHz, the SiT8021 oscillator is an ideal reference clock source for the microcontroller (MCU), an audio digital-to-analogue converter, or a biometric sensor in these applications. With 1 Hz to 1 MHz frequency, the SiT156x/7x Super-TCXOs provide various highly accurate and precise timekeeping functions. These include the reference for the real time clock (RTC)/watch dog (WD) in the MCU, reference for the audio subsystem, and sleep clock for the wireless transceiver system on chip (SoC) in Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and WiFi. With ±5 ppm Super-TCXOs, SiTime has broken the barriers of accuracy reaching chronometer-grade timekeeping with a low-power, ultra-small footprint.  

YD: How do you see your market evolving?

PS: SiTime will continue to siliconize the timing industry by offering the most features, highest performance, smallest size, best robustness/reliability and lowest power. Our roadmap development strategy is based on developing unique products that solve big problems in electronics. We are also focused on making our MEMS timing solutions available to every customer, everywhere, through the channels that they prefer. See below for more on this.

YD: You now have few MEMS competitors in this market. Do you think you have reached a point where you have “killed” your MEMS competitors with your technology and products? Is your next target to gain more and more markets shares from quartz products?

PS: We believe that one of the reasons that major players exited the MEMS timing market is because they recognized the advanced capabilities of our MEMS and programmable analog technologies, as well as our systems expertise, and chose to focus their resources elsewhere.  Today, SiTime is focused on ubiquitous availability of our MEMS timing solutions. Like all semiconductor companies, we have sales representatives and global distributors such as Arrow, Digikey, and Mouser, who offer SiTime’s products to worldwide customers. In addition, we recognize that customers may have long-standing relationships with existing quartz suppliers, and may prefer to buy from them. To that end, we have partnered with many quartz suppliers (eg. KDS, Abracon, Jauch, Petermann and many more) who are offering MEMS oscillators based on SiTime technology, to their customers. Our channel efforts will ensure that MEMS timing solutions are available to every customer, worldwide, through their preferred channels.

YD: How can MEMS timing devices push quartz devices out of business, and in which applications?

PS: Over time, MEMS timing is expected to replace quartz timing in virtually all applications. SiTime is “siliconizing” the timing industry, as has happened several times in the past in other markets. For example, vacuum tubes are no longer used in mainstream devices, nor is photography film or mechanical gyroscopes – they are all replaced with silicon solutions. The reason for this change is that once silicon touches an incumbent technology, it always wins – the rapid pace of innovation, technological advances and the economic scale of the semiconductor industry are a winning combination.

YD: What is your outlook for 2016-2017 and what growth perspective do you envisage for your company?

PS: SiTime doubled in units shipped from 2014 to 2015 and shipped a total of 125  million units in 2015. SiTime is the largest SPXO company today, with over 110 million SPXO units shipped last year, which is more than the production capacities of established quartz vendors. We expect to double shipments again in 2016, achieved by growth in new applications, channel strategy and taking share away from quartz. We expect our growth to continue into the foreseeable future.   

Piyush Sevalia portrait hirezPiyush Sevalia, Executive Vice President of Marketing at SiTime, has 25 years of semiconductor and telecom industry experience. Since 2008, Piyush has helped SiTime grow and transform the $6 billion timing market, which resulted in a successful $200M acquisition. Prior to SiTime, Piyush was the Vice President of Marketing at Ikanos Communications, a supplier of VDSL solutions for last mile access. During his tenure at Ikanos, Piyush made significant contributions that drove the company’s growth from a pre-revenue startup to a profitable public company, which had over 80% market share worldwide. Before Ikanos, Piyush spent over nine years at Cypress Semiconductor in positions of increasing responsibility. There, his key contributions included helping Cypress expand into wireless markets as well as defining and launching successful timing products that generated several hundred million dollars of revenue. Piyush earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Bombay and the University of Michigan respectively, and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley.


Related report:

Status of the MEMS Industry report, Yole Développement, May 2016 – here

Amid a commodization paradox, Chinese players taking off, sales stabilization and new applications, how can the MEMS industry regenerate value?



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