Spun out of French design services company ELSYS Design, SPiDCOM is developing chips for the emerging powerline communications (PLC) market. The company's technology began as a project at ELSYS in 2001 under the direction of Radomir Jovanovic, who led the Sept. 2002 spin-off.
SPiDCOM is a subsidiary of a holding company the startup created with ELSYS at the time of the spin-off. This holding company owns about 80% of SPiDCOM, with ELSYS and France-based CIC Capital Development (a venture subsidiary of CIC Groupe) owning 10% each. SPiDCOM has raised total funding of about $5 million, and is in the process of looking for new funding as well.
SPiDCOM has already opened a representative office in China, a country that will likely be the world's biggest market for broadband over powerline (BPL). The company will turn this office into a subsidiary before the end of the year. SPiDCOM also plans on opening an office in the U.S., which will likely occur sometime in 2006.
The management team includes Frederic Onado, who serves as VP of marketing and sales. Before joining SPiDCOM, Onado was in charge of business development for IC design services at Thales Group in the division specializing in services for electronic systems design. He is the representative of the HomePlug Alliance's EMEA zone.
E. Chevreau Etienne, CTO, previously worked for Alcatel Business System, Thomson Detexis and Astrium, advancing from designer to project leader, team manager and finally technical manager.
Joseph Fruhauf is the company's hardware manager. Earlier, he worked for Doremi Labs, where he helped develop a professional HDTV player prototype with MPEG2 and real time compression/decompression.
Powerline communications products have been around for years, although the massive popularity of WiFi left powerline technology in the dust. But powerline proponents expect in-home video distribution will propel the technology into widespread acceptance. While the Homeplug 1.0 standard provided only 14 Mbps throughput, the new Homeplug AV standard is 200 Mbps, which is enough bandwidth to cover all home applications and serve as the networking backbone in the home. The other potentially huge market for powerline technology is BPL.
SPiDCOM's first chip, the SPC200-e, is a 224-Mbps proprietary device. SPiDCOM designed the SPC200-e, launched in March 2005, for both indoor (data, voice, audio and HDTV) and outdoor (medium and low voltage) PLC applications. Customers can optimize the implementation of HF filtering, digital conversion and power amplification for the analog front end separately for each type of application. The AFE can be implemented using low-cost discrete standard components.
Customers can configure the SPC200-e for specific applications. While the powerline industry can use the solution for access and networking, the chip can also be adapted for the cable market and embedded automotive applications.
SPiDCOM currently has customers in all three of its target markets. According to the company, two customers in China that have integrated the SPC200-e into BPL products and two French customers are employing the chip for the in-home powerline video distribution market; one Chinese and one German customer are using the chip in cable applications; and one of the world's largest equipment manufacturers in the automotive market has integrated its technology for in-car video distribution.
Although SPiDCOM's first device was proprietary, the company is currently developing a follow-on chip that will be compliant with Homeplug AV, the 200-Mbps standard intended for in-home video distribution. The company will have a prototype FPGA of the AV device available at the end of 2005, the first sample available in March 2006, and mass production expected in June.
The dominant silicon provider in the powerline space is Intellon. Founded in 1989, the company's long-time experience with powerline networking communications has enabled it to command about 90% of the Homeplug 1.0 market. The company's Homeplug AV offering is the INT6000, which Intellon demonstrated at the recent Intel Developer Forum. Intellon represents tough competition, but SPiDCOM expects its highly flexible technology will be attractive to customers that want to incorporate value-added features on top of the basic AV technology.
(See our profile of Intellon in the June 2004 issue of InsideChips.Ventures.)
PLC proponents maintain that wireless technologies are complementary to powerline, as Homeplug can serve as the home networking backbone while wireless networks can hang off that backbone and provide mobility to users. But the situation may be more complicated than that, especially as UWB and 802.11n make their entrances.
UWB has the throughput to handle in-home video distribution, although its range is limited. 802.11n, the next-generation WiFi standard, stands a better chance of directly competing with PLC, although recent developments have hobbled the progress of the standard. The two industry groups with competing 802.11n standards were in discussions about harmonizing their proposals when an Intel-led group that includes Broadcom, Atheros and Marvell suddenly dropped in a third proposal. According to ABI Research, this monkey wrench could delay ratification of the standard until the middle of 2007.