April 21, 2008
Founded in May 2005 by former TI executives, Altair Semiconductor is one of Israel's up-and-coming fabless semiconductor startups with its charter to develop advanced ultra low power chips for mobile WiMAX and 3GPP-LTE optimized for portable devices. The company is also engaged in other variants of OFDMA/MIMO technologies which are not WiMAX or LTE based. The name of the company. Altair, belongs to a very bright star in the Aquila constellation of the Milky Way galaxy. It is also the name of the first PC company.
Altair has developed a unique processor in-house which can be customized with firmware changes and is the basis for the startup's technology capability. The proprietary technology is dubbed O2P ™ (Optimized OFDMA Processor) architecture which features a robust co-channel interference technology and a MIMO Matrix-B decoder that significantly outperforms "Maximum Likelihood" implementations. The company has patents pending for its know-how in allowing co-existence of WiMAX with BTH/WLAN and cellular. The single processor is capable of running 802.16e, 3GPP LTE and other OFDMA/MIMO variants and is claimed to outperform any conventional DSP processing OFDMA. It is architected and tuned to execute OFDMA tasks only.
The company is venture backed with Series A funding of $8 million from JVP, BRM Capital, and Ginza Venture Capital. In June 2007, returning investors and Bessemer Venture Partners poured in another $18 million.
Altair's core team, about 1/3 of its employees, hail from Israel's Libit Signal Processing which was acquired by Texas Instruments in 1999 for $365 million. Libit was an 80-employee company with a 15-year track record and more than 20 different types of broadband mixed-signal PHY/MAC ICs which were deployed in tens of millions of commercial products.
Altair's co-founder and CEO is Oded Melamed. He started his career at an elite R&D unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. Later he joined Libit Signal Processing which later became a part of TI. For the five years prior to starting Altair, he was director of Cable Modem R&D ad TI in Israel.
Another co-founder is Yigal Bitran who serves as the chief technology officer. As VP of R&D at Libit Signal Processing, he established Libit's R&D group and was pivotal in developing Libit's core technologies. Following Libit's acquisition by Texas Instruments, Bitran served as CTO of its broadband communications group in Israel -- developing multiple broadband technologies including Cable Modems, WiFi and Gigabit Ethernet. Prior to joining Libit, Yigal was a research scientist and team leader at an elite R&D unit of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Eran Eshed, a third co-founder and VP of business development, was formerly director of marketing for TI's Cable Modem business unit, where he was responsible for all marketing activities including, creating and implementing strategic revenue plans, managing major accounts, as well as sales and channel development activities for OEM and ODM customers in North America and Asia. Before joining TI, Eshed spent eight years in various hardware and silicon development and management positions, with various startups including Libit Signal Processing.
Source: Altair Semiconductor
A battle has been brewing between WiMAX and LTE for the fourth generation (4G) wireless technologies. Service providers with the right spectrum and available funding along with access to locate base stations are in an advantageous position to move to 4G. WiMAX technology has a two year head start in the race. But 3GPP-LTE (Long Term Evolution) and Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) being pushed by Qualcom are vying for the same market. While mobile WiMAX has a head start, delays in WiMAX certifications coupled with network deployment will enable the LTE camp to make headway. While WiMAX has about 50 deployments currently in progress and is backed heavily by Intel, the technology's adoption was slowed by the collapse of the WiMAX partnership between Sprint Nextel and Clearwire. The WiMAX user terminal chipset market is seen to grow from $27 million in 2007 to $500 million by 2012. WiMAX base station chip revenues will grow from $130 million in 2007 to about $1.2 billion by 2012.
Qualcom is pushing its own 4G variant called 3GPP2 which it calls UMB but is not seen as gaining traction in the marketplace. Promising data rates up to 280Mbps, the technology is supposed to go commercial in mid-2009 but none of the major carriers have set plans to test or use the technology. The company could lose Verizon, a key customer, in the future due to Verizon's move towards LTE. It should be noted that Qualcom is a significant partner in Google's Android platform.
LTE will be a potential threat to WiMAX and will eventually become the 4G dominant technology according to industry watchers. The deployment of LTE is driven by Japan's NTT Docomo with early trials commencing at the end of 2008 leading to significant volumes in 2011. LTE also has the backing of Vodafone and Verizon, the joint owners of cellular provider Verizon Wireless. Verizon will start testing its LTE version of 4G later this year. Market research estimates vary but suggest numbers as high 24 million 4G subscribers by 2012 using cellular services based on LTE. In November 2007, the GSM Association representing 700 GSM-based service providers, chose the LTE standard as their choice for 4G. All in all, WiMAX is considered to be a disruption in the 4G market while LTE is seen as an evolution.
Altair is covering its bets by focusing on both mobile WiMAX and 3GPP-LTE platforms.
Source: Altair Semiconductor
The mobile WiMAX offering consists of the ATL6110 RF chip and ALT2150 baseband IC. Both devices are fabricated in CMOS technology in a Taiwan fab. Altair touts that its solution has the lowest power consumption (less than 1/3 of competition) and smallest footprint (less than ½ of competition) in the mobile WiMAX industry.
Altair is marketing its mobile WiMAX chips claiming that its baseband SoC will drain 142mW at peak capacity and consume less than 100mW for most data functions. The ALT2150 device was officially released on March 11, 2008. The chip integrates a MIPS32(R) core and Chipidea's (a MIPS company) analog IP.
Typical baseband chip prices command $17-20 and RF front ends are being quoted in the $6-9 range in larger quantities.
Altair competes against other WiMAX suppliers such as SEQUANS Communications, Beceem Semiconductor, Troicom, WaveSat Wireless, AsicAhead, Amicus Wireless, Broadcom, Intel and others. Another Israeli startup plying the same space, i.e., WiMAX now and 3GPP-LTE for the next generation chips, is Comsys Communications and Signal Processing. Comsys began operations in 1998.
Development at Altair continues in high-gear with the intention of becoming one of the first companies to have a viable LTE solution on the market. The company has the advantage of its experience in the mobile WiMAX market to become a frontrunner in LTE. Most of Altair's WiMAX competitors have not targeted LTE as a strategic product area yet. While those in the LTE space do not come from a WiMAX technology background. Until LTE comes on stream in the market, Altair is covering its operational costs and generating revenues from sales of its WiMAX chips.
Currently, Altair has about 80 employees at its Israel headquarters and has reps/distributors in Japan (Internix) and Taiwan (Galaxy Far East). While Altair has not yet established a USA beachhead, it has a business development person based out of San Diego, California.
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