Why did Microsemi buy Actel?
Three weeks ago, Intel announced the mid-year 2011 availability of the first programmable embedded ATOM SoC – codenamed Stellarton – based on Altera’s FPGA technology. Earlier this year, Xilinx announced a partnership with ARM, the current de facto leader in embedded mobile systems. Both of these announcements were processor-centric, i.e., an embedded processor was tightly couple to an FPGA. (See “Intel Teams Up with Altera”)
This is not the case with today’s announcement of Microsemi’s acquisition of FPGA tool vendor Actel. Rather than a marriage of processors with FPGAs, this announcement represents a union of analog-mixed signal (AMS) and RF/Wireless chips with FPGAs. Why the difference?
Perhaps Microsemi needs an FPGA fabric to act as “system glue” to fully integrate other recent acquisitions, including VT Silicon and Arxan Defense Systems. These earlier acquisitions have extended Microsemi’s traditional focus in discrete AMS and power regulation-management devices to the world of mobile wireless and security chip technology.
A more likely explanation is that Microsemi values both Actel’s strong defense clients as well as their in-roads into analog integration. Actel has long had a strong presence in military electronics, thanks to their radiation hardened, anti-fuse, flash-based technology. Further, the companies Smart Fusion product lines are billed as “intelligent mixed signal FPGAs,” which would be a good complement to Microsemi’s existing AMS tools. (see “FPGA’s Tackle Motor Control System”)
Microsemi’s recent acquisition of Actel is the latest dynamic in the rapidly changing FGPA vendor landscape. What will it mean to the remaining low-tier FPGA companies like Lattice Semiconductor, SiliconBlue, Acrhonix, Quicklogic, as well as to start-ups like InPa and others? Are these programmable chip companies also acquisition targets by processor- or analog-centric companies? Will FPGAs be merely the system glue to hold together disparate parts from a variety of former acquisitions or will they be the key component in achieving the shining chalice of programmability?
Dare I even bring up the question of how these newly integrated or acquired FPGA devices will be programmed? After all, achieving a truly programmable system requires more than just hardware. But that’s a discussion for another day.