PORTLAND, Ore. Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) oscillators are replacing quartz crystals at a 120 percent annual growth rate, according to an industry forecast, or four times the growth rate forecast elsewhere.
The bullish MEMS forecast from Wicht Technologie Consulting (WTC, Munich, Germany), outpaced an earlier survey of MEMS foundries by Yole Development (Lyon, France), which predicted 30 percent annual growth.
According to WTC, the current $2.5 million market for MEMS oscillators will grow to $140 million by 2012, fueled by microminiaturization in consumer and automotive electronics as well as by system-on-chip MEMS with multiple oscillators on a single CMOS chip. Beyond 2012, MEMS oscillators could also begin penetrating the $1 billion market for mobile handset timing chips, according to WTC.
Already shipped are about 3 million MEMS oscillators in 2007 from Discera Inc. (San Jose, Calif.) and SiTime Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.). Silicon Clocks Inc. (Fremont, Calif.) is readying its first shipments of silicon-germanium based MEMS oscillators, which the company plans to offer as SoC timing circuits.
"The first products from Discera and SiTime can be described as system-in-package," said Jeremie Bouchaud, head of market research at WTC. "However, Silicon Clocks has positioned itself in SoC MEMS timing solutions from the start. Its first commercial samples should be available within a year, with SiTime to follow."
WTC also predicts that three large chip makers will soon announce their entry into the MEMS timing chip market. NXP Semiconductors (Eindhoven, Netherlands) and STMicroelectronics (Geneva, Switzerland) will be the first. Another as-yet unnamed company is expected to emerge in 2009. Among the candidates are Motorola, which has MEMS pico-projector under development, Freescale and Texas Instruments. A handful of Japanese chip makers are also eyeing the MEMS market.
CMOS timing chips with no moving parts--both quartz crystals and MEMS resonators have moving parts--have also been announced by Mobius Microsystems Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.). In early April, Mobius unveiled a CMOS harmonic oscillator that eliminates other timing chips in favor of an inductive-capacitive oscillator on CMOS that uses no mechanical resonators.
WTC expects OEMs to begin incorporating MEMS oscillators into consumer devices like rear-view automobile cameras, digital TVs and digital camcorders. They will use relatively low-precision "XO" quartz crystals. Temperature-compensated crystal oscillators (TCXO) could be used in applications like chips supplying timing signals in wireless devices.
The $1 billion market for TCXO applications uses a single quartz crystal to drive several phase-locked loops that produce timing signals for a device. MEMS SoCs will instead use an individual MEMS resonator for each timing signal in an array of resonators--all on a the same CMOS chip. MEM oscillator makers claim that the size and shape of each resonator can be fine-tuned to the frequency and duty cycle of each timing signal to achieve superior noise and jitter levels. They also claim lower power consumption and lower cost than quartz crystals.
The world's largest supplier of quartz crystals, the Toyocom division of Seiko Epson is offering MEMS versions of its quartz crystals called quartz-MEMS. QMEMS, according to Toyocom, can fit into packages comparable to MEMS oscillators from Discera and SiTime, but at a lower price compared to quartz crystals.
"OEMs have to pay a premium for miniaturized quartz crystals like Toyocom's QMEMS," said Venkat Bahl, vice president of marketing at Discera. "This increases the value of our MEMS oscillators compared to quartz crystals because MEMS oscillators are already in a small package and are comparably priced to QMEMS--which [are] in short supply."
Also booming are MEMS foundries and contract manufacturers, according to Yole Development. Tronics Microsystems (Grenoble, France), which makes custom MEMS chips for European customers, said it grew by 56 percent last year, increasing to $15.4 million in sales. However, the "profitability of the majority of independent MEMS manufacturers and MEMS units of IC manufacturers is yet to be proven," added Jean-Christophe Eloy, general manager of Yole Development.