MUNICH, Germany With a share price hike of more than 1000 percent in less than a year, Dialog Semiconductor (Kirchheim, Germany) currently is one of Europe's most successful chip vendors. The fabless company has built its remarkable success on power management applications for portable devices. But isn't power management a rather commonplace application with little chances to differentiate? Dialog CEO Jalal Bagherli says no if some critical factors are taken into account.
"Everybody is claiming to offer power management", Bahleri said in an interview with EE Times. "But it looks like power management means different things to different people." At the market, a flood of products competes against each other products that range from simple discrete DC/DC converters to small-scale integrated devices. Typically they are marketed as high-volume stand-alone products and, as commodity products, they are characterized by low margins.
In order to keep competition at bay and his margins up, Bagherli says he bets on products with a very high degree of integration and a broad range of functions. "We are focusing on the high-end. For instance, some of our devices have 35 or more different functions," Bagherli said. Besides power management, the devices contain audio and interface functions such as touch screen controllers, USB interfaces or LED drivers.
A large junk of Dialog's revenue comes from customized high-end products, designed for a specific application or smartphone. The upside of this situation is that as a strategy to keep out competitors it is very effective. "When you win the design you automatically become sole supplier for that product. This keeps the competition out until the next generation", Bagherli said.
The strategy however also has a downside: With its highly customized chips, Dialog depends to a very large extend on very few smartphone designs and customers. The bankruptcy of BenQ Mobile, then Dialog's most important customer, triggered a heavy crisis at Dialog as well. Thus, the chip vendor tries to counteract with diversification creating a broader product portfolio which it could sell to a broader clientele.
But such a strategy takes time, Bagherli conceded. "After all, Dialog has a lot of new customers, but with relatively small volumes compared to our large ones". Ironically, the fast growth of large customers counteracts all the efforts for diversification. Among these customers are mobile handset vendor Sony Ericsson and Apple with its iPhone. "They just happened to be successful and growing faster," Bagherli said. "Of course, we don't want to turn off the business with successful customers."
Another element of the diversification strategy is offering more standard products, which however has some watering effect on the strategy to offer customized products. In addition, the company tries to offer its technology across more platforms in order to reduce the dependency on particular customer products or product lines.
In this context, the company intends continue to integrate ever more functions into its chips. Its most recent product announcement was a very low-power audio chip it announced as "strategic". But what is strategic at an audio device? "With this product we have access to new markets," Bagherli explained. The company had offered audio ICs before, but not for the handheld market. "In these markets, power management and extremely low power consumption is critical", Bagherli said.