LONDON — The fabless mixed-signal and power chip vendor Dialog Semiconductor plc (Kirchheim, Germany) wants to add MEMS technology to its range of offerings for mobile equipment.
"This is something we are very interested in, particularly something like MEMS sensor fusion, where you use algorithms to turn sensor data into useful information," Dialog CEO Jalal Bagherli told us in an exclusive interview.
The company will likely engage with the MEMS sector through an acquisition, Bagherli said. "Our engagement would be fabless, but we have to find a way to differentiate ourselves."
Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology has increased in significance with the rise of the smartphone and tablet. MEMS accelerometers and gyrometers orient screens and help with location finding, and MEMS membrane devices are being introduced as microphones. The MEMS for mobile component market was worth $2 billion in 2012, according to a Yole Developpement report.
However, it might prove unwise to try and compete against some of the already dominant manufacturing players. Yole put STMicroelectronics' 2012 MEMS sales at $1 billion. (See: STMicro tops MEMS market ranking.) And the competitive nature of the mobile phone market is putting extreme pressure on average selling prices.
"MEMS is still a good market, and there are opportunities out there," Laurent Robin, the MEMS and sensors analyst at Yole who wrote the report, told EE Times. "There is the adoption of new sensors coming to mobile phones, such as gas sensors and humidity sensors."
In his interview with us, Bagherli said Dialog has done some research with the US company SiTime on stacking its MEMS oscillator for crystal replacement on top of a Dialog PMIC. This could provide a means of integrating the replacement for a crystal oscillator and liberating motherboard area for other chips.
Robin said, "That is a different argument to sensors and sensor fusion, but they could integrate timing MEMS and the PMIC and add value."
Another approach could be for Dialog simply to engage with MEMS components from other suppliers using software for data fusion. "If Dialog is including a processor in the PMIC, they could be interested in running sensor fusion software," he said. "It is a trend in smartphones. It might be that their involvement might be more in software than hardware." Inertial MEMS sensor volume is so high (and prices are so low) that it would be hard for Dialog to compete there. "In motion sensors, they would need to find a very disruptive technology."
However, Dialog has numerous design wins for its PMICs in smartphones and tablets, and this could make the company an attractive partner for a MEMS startup trying to bring novel sensor technology to market, Robin said.