To meet more stringent customer requirements, particularly in the high-flying telecommunications and networking markets, crystal and oscillator makers are introducing enhanced products at record speed.
Many product launches are centered around smaller packaging and improved performance characteristics such as higher frequencies, tighter stability and tolerances, extended temperature ranges, lower noise, lower supply voltages, and low phase jitter.
While consumer-electronics and PC OEMs continue to focus mainly on commodity crystals and oscillators, telecom and networking customers are gobbling up higher-performance products, including VCXOs (voltage-controlled crystal oscillators) and OCXOs (oven-controlled crystal oscillators).
Wireless applications are expected to continue to drive growth for high-end oscillators.
Wireless represents 63% of the global market for TCXOs (temperature-controlled crystal oscillators), 41% for OCXOs, 36% for VCXOs, and 41% for VCOs, according to Allied Business Intelligence (ABI), Oyster Bay, N.Y. Wired applications also play an important role, accounting for 41% of the market for VCXOs and 17% for OCXOs.
Opportunities for crystal and oscillator suppliers are substantial in several emerging telecom applications, including Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS), third-generation cellular, xDSL, cable modems, SONET, satellite systems, and 38-GHz radio equipment, according to ABI.
Most crystal and oscillator vendors believe that product launches focusing on new packages, programmable devices, and innovative solutions will push revenue higher this year. Ecliptek Corp., for example, expects 25% growth, compared with flat growth in 1998. Niche player Champion Technologies Inc., a TCXO specialist, says it expects 15% growth.
Many crystal and oscillator manufacturers also believe that prices have hit rock bottom, after falling 10% to 20% or more since 1997.
U.S. quartz-crystal revenue will increase from $309.5 million in 1998 to $478.6 million in 2003, according to estimates from World Information Technologies Inc. (WIT), Northport, N.Y. The U.S. clock-oscillator market will reach $361.1 million in 2003, from $305.4 in 1998, and the "other" oscillator segment will jump to $453.2 million in 2003, from $293.2 million in 1998, WIT said.
While many customers are demanding higher performance, others are looking for better availability. Shorter design cycles, coupled with time-to-market constraints and the build-to-order trend, have increased pressure on oscillator makers to shorten their average lead times of 10 to 12 weeks.
The solution: programmable oscillators. Lead times for these devices range between three and 10 days. Although the parts were initially designed for preproduction and prototypes, a number of OEMs are now using them for production volumes.
"Indications point to the eventual broad acceptance of programmable oscillators by OEMs to meet a range of application needs," said Frank Kuzler, a research analyst at WIT.
"The limiting factor is the capital investment for programming equipment, which hasn't been justified yet by the current level of market acceptance," he said.
When programmable oscillators first came to market a few years ago, some customers encountered phase-noise, or jitter, problems-resulting in some continued OEM skittishness about whether to adopt the devices.
"We need to confirm that the market demand is for real before we develop our second-generation programmable line," said Beat Kocher, manager of marketing and business development at SaRonix Corp. in Menlo Park, Calif.
Some forge ahead
But while some suppliers worry about market acceptability of programmable oscillators, others are reporting strong demand.
"Our competitors are beginning to recognize the advantages for both engineers and purchasers," said Allen Pangaro, product manager at Epson Electronics America Inc., El Segundo, Calif. "[OEMs] can get design samples very quickly for custom frequencies and meet their design cycle requirements." Pangaro said, adding that Epson's SG8002 series of programmable oscillators has been doing well in the market the past two years.
Fox Electronics has introduced its second-generation JITO-2 programmable clock oscillators that come with a beefed up frequency range of 340 kHz to 250 MHz-currently the widest range in the industry, according to the company. Another advantage is lower noise, typically 25% to 50% the level of competitive products, said Jim Gibson, marketing manager at Fox, Fort Myers, Fla.
Other improvements include an industrial operating temperature range of --40??C to +85??C, tighter stabilities to 25 ppm, 5- or 3.3-V operation, and PECL or HCMOS outputs. JITO-2 devices with frequencies up to 125 MHz are less than $2 in 1,000s. There is a small price premium for frequencies above 125 MHz, the PECL option, or a higher stability rating.
Production orders can be turned around in 10 days or less, and prototypes in 48 hours, according to the company.
"We try to get customers to qualify both the JITO-2 part and the fixed-frequency part so that they're both on the bill of materials in case there's an increase in orders," Gibson said. "This build-to-order trend in product manufacturing means that a 12-week lead time for fixed-frequency parts is impossible. The programmable part's much shorter lead time makes it especially attractive to contract manufacturers."
Raltron Corp. plans to launch a programmable line in the next three months, according to Alexander Wolloch, president of the Miami-based company. "Programmable clock oscillators are good for fast turnarounds and are useful for customers who are not bothered by the jitter problem," he said. "But we still see it as strictly a service item and for research and development."
Earlier this year, Ecliptek Corp. introduced its EPO series of programmable clock oscillators. The company can turn around orders in three days. "Customers are always trying to shorten their design cycle and lower their lead times," said Mark Stoner, director of marketing at the Costa Mesa, Calif., manufacturer. "The shorter lead times work well with many of the current supply-chain models used in the industry."
The EPO series features frequencies ranging from 1 to 125 MHz. Options include ??50- or ??100-ppm frequency stability, a tri-state or power-down function, an HCMOS or TTL output duty cycle, and 3.3- or 5-V versions. Operating temperature is --20??C to +70??C or --40??C to +85??C.
The devices are available in a hermetically sealed 8- or 14-pin DIP, or a ceramic surface-mount package. A plastic surface-mount package will be offered by the fourth quarter, the company said. Ecliptek's EPO series is priced at $2 to $3, depending on the packaging.
Dallas Semiconductor Corp. has tried something different. Its EconOscillators are fixed-frequency devices, but custom operating frequencies are possible in the range of 30 to 100 MHz through a user-programmable on-chip prescaler and divider. This allows a customer to buy an off-the-shelf part and program it on site prior to production, enabling design changes to be made on the fly.
The latest generation of the Dallas-based company's EconOscillators offers 3-V operation, an industrial temperature range, and TO-92 packaging. A DS1075K EconOscillator development kit, priced at $99, is available for breadboarding and preproduction.
As the electronics industry continues to move to smaller and faster systems, crystal and oscillator suppliers are developing new packaging. The most popular footprint is a 5- ?? 7-mm ceramic surface-mount package.
Certain ceramic packages are rumored to be in short supply, pushing some vendors to hedge their bets by bringing in extra ceramic packages.
"Lead times are improving in general, except for ceramic-packaged products that are stretching out due to current shortages," SaRonix's Kocher said. "However, by adjusting production capacities, our company can continuously improve lead times for customer-specific products," he said.
Suppliers report that more than 50% of their products are shipping in surface-mount packages. That represents a dramatic shift from just two years ago, when through-hole devices were more prevalent.
There's major demand for crystals with smaller surface-mount footprints for notebook computers, PCMCIA cards, disk drives, and pocket LAN adapters, according to suppliers.
Fox recently introduced several products targeted at space-constrained applications. The FD series, introduced this month, measures 7.5 ?? 5 ?? 1.1 mm and covers a frequency range of 9.8 to 160 MHz. The FE series of surface-mount miniature crystals, introduced in February, measures 0.295 ?? 0.197 ?? 0.067 inches and is available in standard frequencies of 9.8 to 67 MHz in a resin-sealed package. Prices start at 61 cents in 10,000s, and delivery is from stock.
The FD/FE crystals offer a frequency stability of ??50 ppm and an operating temperature of 0 to +60??C. For tight-tolerance applications, the FD crystal is available with an optional tolerance and stability of 10 ppm.
SaRonix recently introduced a crystal in a 3.5 ?? 6 ?? 1-mm package for portable applications such as PCMCIA and modem cards.
Raltron's new Model H-160A crystal offers a 1.6-mm profile for disk drives, modems, peripherals, PCMCIA, and other portable products.
Cardinal Components Inc., Wayne, N.J., has brought several products to market to address space challenges. The most recent, dubbed the CT67 and CV67 TCXO, are leadless VCXO/TCXO oscillators that measure 7 ?? 5 ?? 1.7 mm.
Vectron International's V-Type VCXO features a tri-state option and generates frequencies up to 65 MHz with a 3.3- or 5-V supply voltage in a tiny 7.5 ?? 5 ?? 1.80-mm package.
Ecliptek's EC3SM and EC4SM series of epoxy-based surface-mount crystals are designed for applications in which coplanarity is critical. The pad layout is similar to the popular plastic surface-mount packages, but offers better performance, shorter lead times, and competitive pricing, according to the company. Delivery is stock to eight weeks.
The new 3.3-V CMV3 surface-mount VCXO from Champion offers a low-profile leadless chip carrier and measures 7.5 ?? 5.08 ?? 1.8 mm. These devices are designed for phase-locked-loop applications, including cellular base stations, microwave radios, clock recovery circuits, local reference clocking, and signal tracking.
Handling the high speeds
Higher crystal clock frequencies are also needed to cope with the higher speeds of such technologies as Gigabit Ethernet and SONET. In many cases, high-frequency oscillators for these applications are available in an industrial temperature range of --40??C to +85??C and tighter tolerance/stability ratings.
SaRonix has expanded several product lines in the past six months to meet the increasing demand for high-performance frequency-control products. The S1550, a PECL VCXO, is available in a wide frequency range of 38.88 to 155.52 MHz in a standard metal 14-pin DIP. The devices are offered with frequency stabilities of ??20, 25, 50, or 100 ppm over a temperature range of 0 to +70??C or --40??C to +85??C.
SaRonix's S1903 and S1950 crystal clock oscillators operate at up to 125 MHz in a 5- ?? 7-mm ceramic package. The frequency range covers 106.25-MHz Fibre Channel and 125-MHz Gigabit Ethernet applications.
The company's latest ECL/PECL crystal clock oscillator, the SEL3400, offers a very wide frequency range of 7 to 250 MHz, which includes the SONET 155.52-MHz domain for high-resolution graphics, workstations, imaging, and telecom applications.
The VF194/VF294 VCXOs from ValpeyFisher Corp. are designed to solve a design engineer's cramped board space dilemma while extending frequency range. Measuring 5.08 ?? 7.62 mm, the devices provide a frequency range from 1.5 to 160 MHz, encompassing 1255.520-MHz SONET. Targeted applications include xDSL, digital video, HDTV, cellular base stations, ISDN, and wireless LANs.
ValpeyFisher's new DigiXO combines greater stability with lower power requirements for Stratum III timing for telephony, Global Positioning System, and satellite modems. The digitally compensated crystal oscillators age by a factor of three, better than products using Third Overtone Resonator technology, according to the company. The device also features stability of ??0.3 ppm or better over the industrial temperature range. Phase noise is typically less than --145 dBc/Hz at offsets greater than 10 kHz.
ValpeyFisher has also introduced a line of low-phase-jitter oscillators for high-frequency applications. The devices offer less than 1-ps phase jitter with a choice of frequencies as high as 200 MHz. Applications for the VFAC570 series include Gigabit Ethernet, ATM, SONET, Fibre Channel, networking, switching, and backplane applications.
CTS-Reeves Frequency Products, Car-lisle, Pa., recently introduced an OCXO for low-phase-noise communications applications, including the GSM, TDMA, and CDMA protocols. The maximum phase-noise spec for Model 119 is --50 dBc/Hz at 100 Hz and --160 dBc/Hz at 10 KHz. A frequency stability of 10 ppm is available from 0 to +70??C.
Designed for pagers, cell phones, and other wireless and telecom systems, Raltron's RTVY-174 uses a custom IC chip, which enables a smaller, more efficient device. Measuring 6 ?? 3.5 mm, the RTVY-174 provides ??2.5-ppm stability over a temperature range of --30??C to +80??C, and is available in standard frequencies from 12.6 to 19.8 MHz.
Vectron's new CO-6000V VCXO offers jitter performance of less than 5-psrms at 155.52 MHz at frequencies from 10 to 160 MHz. Features include typical phase noise of --115 dBc at 1 kHz, aging of 10 ppm for 10 years, temperature stability to ??20 ppm at 0 to +70??C, and ECL and PECL compatibility. The 155.52-MHz VCXO prototypes will have a lead time of two weeks, the company said.
Gina Roos is a freelance writer based in Belmont, Mass.