BEIJING It's a long way from Bath, England, to the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications. Yet for U.K. start-up picoChip, it's become one of the quickest ways to juice up its R&D.
Lots of big foreign companies, ranging from Intel Corp. to ARM Ltd., have already forged close ties with Chinese universities, who are usually keen to access leading technology and cutting edge equipment.
Not a lot of small companies have done so, however. Last week, picoChip, a multicore DSP provider with less than 100 people, took the plunge. It established a wireless communications and networking lab with BUPT, and followed that with the opening of a small design center in Beijing. The lab will focus on 4G technology, including work in 802.16m, UMTS-LTE, and China's own advanced wireless project, known as 4G FuTURE.
PicoChip has done some small-scale projects with BUPT before, and the unexpected results prompted it to kick their relationship a little farther down the road. There's some risk IP protection is always a concern in China but picoChip Chief Technology Officer Doug Pulley said so far he has only seen upside.
Originally, picoChip seeded BUPT with its technology so it could serve as a learning vehicle for researchers and engineering students. The benefit to picoChip was getting further feedback on how its architecture handled different standards. "We wanted to show that our programmable technology was useful for any wireless standard you threw at it, and we only had time ourselves to focus on w-CDMA and WiMAX," Pulley said.
With little input from picoChip, BUPT developed a TD-SCDMA platform for testing mobile handsets. TD-SCDMA is the local Chinese telecom standard for 3G. Soon after, BUPT started to work with some of picoChip's customers to provide the technology for handset testing.
"We wanted to use them for development projects that we couldn't staff up quickly. So we started bringing more development work here to complement the software development we do in Bath," Pulley said.
PicoChip also works with one other institution here, the focus there being on MAC development for 802.16e. But Pulley doesn't think the firm will expand much beyond its current academic relationships. "There is an interaction overhead, so it is better to go deep with a few people than to spread things too thinly," he said.
Till now, most of the work in China has been on development, but picoChip plans to do more basic research here in the near future. Its design center will ramp up to about 40-50 people by the end of next year and that will represent about half of the company's engineering team.
"Developing things from a long way away is a bad thing to do. Development in country is essential, so consequently researching in country is also essential," he said.