As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, one of the fun things to do at technical conferences is to sit in on an event that is not an ‘official’ conference session. These events often include talks and/or panels on interesting topics and are sponsored by companies who offer products or services associated with those topics. Such was the case this week at the Embedded Systems Conference, where I attended a luncheon sponsored by Synapse ( with participation by Atmel, Silicon Labs and California Eastern Labs (CEL). The topic: “The tipping point for wireless M2M communications.”

Synapse makes mesh network operating systems and middlewear for the wireless mesh network market while the other three companies embed Synapse operating systems in some of their processors or microcontrollers. All four companies delivered presentations that helped me better understand IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee for low-cost, low-power M2M communications. I also learned about an existing standard – RF4CE (Radio Frequency for Consumer Electronics) – geared at using RF in appliance remote controls instead of the traditional IR for better reliability, to overcome line-of-sight limitations and in some applications where IR controls just won’t work, such as with strongly back-lit monitors.

Particularly interesting was the breadth of applications targeted by 802.15.4-enabled devices. Home and industrial remote lighting, crop irrigation, public thoroughfare lighting, smart utility meters, smart energy such as solar and LED, home entertainment devices, industrial security systems, and asset management are just a few of the applications where 802.15.4 is becoming pervasive. And forget the idea that 802.15.4 is for short-range applications. Companies such as CEL are making devices with ranges beyond two miles.

All-in-all, a nice way to spend a lunch hour, getting an update on some communication protocols that will impact all of our lives and learning about new and interesting products that support these protocols. This is the type of event at which I don’t mind a sales pitch that goes along with the educational material.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: April 30, 2010, 7:34 am | No Comments »

I think the San Jose version of the annual TSMC Technology Symposium this past week is a good indicator of where the semiconductor industry is going over the next few years. The positive growth predictions of keynote speaker Morris Chang, TSMC founder, chairman and CEO – 22% this year and 7% in 2011 – are only one gauge of industry direction. Another is what happens on the exhibit floor.

As in past years, there were plenty of companies willing to put out the money and resources for an exhibit floor booth in San Jose (which also includes smaller, tabletop exhibits this month in Austin and Boston). From a potential customer perspective, foundry-driven shows such as the TSMC symposiums provide an excellent opportunity to meet prospects who are, largely, in the chip design business. Since my company, Sidense, is an IP provider, this is a good audience for us. However, the number of exhibitors is not a great measure of industry direction – the attendee base serves this purpose.

TSMC host Chuck Byers, a familiar face at the TSMC events, indicted that advance attendance was down a little this year, but that walk-ins could make up the difference. Judging from the lack of empty seats for the presentations and the traffic on the show floor, I believe that this was the case. The intangible “show floor energy” was high, demonstrating a positive attitude among attendees. More importantly, we and some of the other exhibitors with whom I compared notes found that visitors had a high level of interest in IP and tools available to help them ratchet up their design productivity. This was in contrast to the more cautious “wait and see” posture of prospects six months to a year ago.

The bottom line is that things are definitely improving. Customers seem more willing to spend money now to gain competitive advantages than they were a year ago. While this doesn’t mean that we are solidly on the road to recovery, I do think that it shows that we have already hit the bottom of the economic trough and that we are making moderate progress on our way to a more normal business environment. However, unfortunately, this doesn’t include, at least at this time, a large surge in hiring to make up for jobs lost over the past two years. That will take a while longer.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: April 18, 2010, 11:15 am | No Comments »