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Executive Interview: Sailesh Chittipeddi, CTO and global VP of operations at IDT

Quietly building a differentiated presence in RF

July 14, 2016

Sailesh Chittipeddi serves as chief technology officer and global vice president of operations at Integrated Device Technology (IDT). For many, IDT is not known as an RF/microwave company. Yet the semiconductor firm is becoming a presence in the industry, quietly developing an RF product portfolio and growing revenue at a double-digit rate.

Give us some background about IDT and tell us why the company entered RF.

Integrated Device Technology is a semiconductor company with about 1,800 employees world-wide, founded in 1980 and headquartered in San Jose, California. Markets we are focused on include communications, consumer, automotive and industrial businesses. We ended our fiscal 2016 in March of this year with revenues of $692 million.

The communications business has been a core competency of IDT, historically, and we've always been strong in the wireless base station market with our timing as well as a switch fabric Serial RapidIO® (SRIO). As we tried to expand our presence by capturing more of the signal chain in the wireless base station market, a natural extension was expanding into the RF area.

The transition from more traditional GaAs-based solutions to SiGe and RF SOI-based solutions for variable gain amplifiers (VGA), digital step attenuators (DSA), voltage variable attenuators (VVA), switches and mixers allowed us the opportunity to get into this market organically, which is a bit unusual. The strong IP we have developed in this area is what has allowed us to create a differentiated advantage in this market space. We have shipped over 20 million devices, less than four years after entering the RF market.

What segments are you targeting, and where do you see your best growth opportunities?

The market we started in, initially, was the wireless base station market, where we continue to see increases in market share. Additionally, we see opportunities in adjacent areas, especially for our switch products, with applications in CATV broadband, test and measurement as well as industrial.

What products are you developing to serve these segments, and what process technologies are you using?

We currently provide modulators and demodulators, amplifiers, attenuators, mixers, switches and RF and IF VGAs. The amplifiers, modulators and demodulators are in SiGe, and the switches and attenuators are in RF SOI-based processes. We are fabless — primarily in the 0.25 to 0.18 μm technology nodes — and rely on foundry partners for support.

How are you differentiated from your competitors? Would you illustrate with an example of your leadership products?

There are five major elements where we have differentiated our performance. These include:

  • glitch-free technology, allowing for gain transitions smoothly to adjacent frequency attenuation settings
  • flat noise, where noise is kept low and constant as gain is adjusted
  • zero distortion, to practically eliminate intermodulation distortion
  • constant impedance switching for agile time division duplex (TDD)
  • constant linearity for maintaining linearity as gain is adjusted.

A recent example of the constant linearity feature (KLIN) is the product we announced at the IMS this year, our digital VGA (DVGA) product, the F1455.

With the KLIN innovation, the IDT F1455 family of high gain, high linearity transmitter VGAs maintains a high 38 dBm output third order intercept point (OIP3) for the first 12 dB of gain control range, providing greater dynamic range for the system. The F1455 family of devices is ideally suited to drive power amplifiers in wireless base station transmitters.

IDT’s KLIN technology extends both OIP3 and the output 1 dB compression point (P1dB) amplifier gain settings. This is particularly valuable in transmitter designs where the gain of the device is maintained within a normal gain setting window, about 6 dB below maximum gain.

You have developed IDT’s product portfolio internally, rather than through acquisition. Has that been a successful strategy, one you will continue to use?

We view our strategy of growing this business organically as being extremely successful. As I stated earlier, we have shipped over 20 million units and have increased our revenue in the high double digits every year since we started this business four years ago — albeit from a small base. So we are extremely pleased with the results. We also view our ability to compete and thrive in the wireless base station market against some fairly large players as a vindication of this approach.

Looking ahead, we will continue to invest organically in this business. Additionally, as needed, we will look at partnerships to close any gaps in our IP as customer roadmaps and new standards evolve.

5G development is accelerating, particularly exploring the use of the millimeter wave spectrum to increase data rates. That seems pretty straightforward if we’re talking about backhaul links. But what about millimeter wave in the smartphone? Is that an area of interest to IDT?

At our analyst day in May 2015, we put together a wireless charging demo combined with 60 GHz technology to show very high data rate transmission between a smartphone (or any other portable device) and a terminal. We did this with our partner Blu Wireless Technology. While focusing on standards-compliant solutions in the WiGig arena would place us squarely in the sights of several major market participants, we intend to focus on areas where we can differentiate by combining it with our innovative technologies.

Switching to another emerging area, we understand you don’t use the term “Internet of Things.” Is that an aversion to the term, or does it have to do with the opportunities behind the term?

The reason is “IoT” is a broad classification encompassing a whole range of devices. As a person with a scientific bent, I like specificity. We are in the age of ubiquitous sensing, so obviously how one communicates with the internet and how much traffic the networks have to handle is of far more interest, and how we can best help make this a reality is more relevant than the terminology one uses.

We think the opportunities for the companies that can leverage this disruption will be meaningful, although it might take some time on this journey.

Data security is a concern for all of us, and the connection of everything with everything increases the number of vulnerabilities. Are you optimistic that technologically we’ll develop systems with reasonable risk for our institutions and as individuals?

Ultimately, security will always be balanced between the need for faster and quicker access to data and the need for protection of that access from unauthorized users. Just like when we access the internet currently, we have security and privacy settings we can adjust based on the level of risk we are willing to take. In the future, we will have something along similar lines where, based on an individual preference for security, privacy and risk taking, we can adjust those factors.

We’ve seen a lot of consolidation in the semiconductor industry during the past few years. Mainland China is strategically moving to develop their own semiconductor industry. Do you see these trends as threats to IDT?

We never underestimate competition, regardless of the geography where it happens to arise. In the memory interface market today, for example, we face competition from Chinese semiconductor providers. The best way to outrun any threat is to innovate and adapt. The U.S. industry has faced similar government-supported competition from Japan and then Korea. We have always managed to innovate our way from these threats, and as long as the innovation and creativity are alive and well, IDT and other companies like it will continue to thrive.