Ember’s Cambridge, UK-based IC design facility is set to double in size by the end of 2006, following the announcement of the company’s development partnership with STMicroelectronics on ZigBee projects. Its 11-strong hardware design team has already developed two ICs at the site, including the ZigBee industry’s first single chip solution integrating both radio and microcontroller. The company is now finalising the specifications for several new IC programs with STMicroelectronics and actively recruiting digital and analogue engineers for the development phases.

The IC design challenges that the partnership faces include finding ways to minimise the number of external components usually required to build a radio, the use of fine geometry semiconductor fabrication processes in a way that does not degrade radio performance, obtaining high radio sensitivity in close proximity to high clock rate digital circuits, and optimising operating modes and power management schemes to suit ultra-long lifetime operation from battery power. However, the rewards of getting these designs right promise to be market sizes that will dwarf all current wireless applications combined.

Excited by the venture, Nick Horne, director of IC Engineering at Ember Europe, commented, “We expect the UK design centre to be at least 20 strong by the end of 2006. Ember has an intellectual lead in this exciting new wireless semiconductor marketplace. We’re capitalising on that by developing new generations of product in partnership with STMicroelectronics, who are providing semiconductor IP as well as access to advanced fabrication processes and semiconductor research.”