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Philsar -- Radio System-On-a-Chip ICs
 
Founded: Jan 1993
Status: Acquired by Conexant 4/00
Issue(s): 3/98
www.philsar.com
81 Metcalfe Street, 3rd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6K7
Canada
Tel: 613-567-4604
Fax: 613-567-5578

Philsar was founded in 1993 as a contract IC design company specializing in custom radio (RF/IF) circuits for digital audio applications. In mid '97, the Company re-focused its mission as a fabless semiconductor company developing radio system-on-a-chip ICs. The Company has developed core technology for next generation RF/IF ICs and chipsets for the cellular, paging, 2-way radio, and consumer RF markets. The Company's headquarters is in Ottawa, Canada. Additional offices will be established in Boston and Toronto. First round financing of $1.25 million, provided by Furneaux & Company, LLC and a group of well-known industry angels, was recently closed. Additional capital will be sough as the company grows. An IPO is anticipated in approx. 2.5 years. Philsar has about 23 employees, mostly radio system/design engineers and scientists, and plans to ramp to 45+ by year-end.

Philsar has core expertise in radio system architecture and IC development, particularly in RF design, delta-sigma data converters and fractional-n-synthesizers. The Company maintains strong ties with Carleton University's High Speed Research Lab, particularly in the area of bandpass data converters. The Company has developed IP and designs that offer maximum flexibility in IF down-conversion. In a traditional radio receiver, a RF signal passes through several down-converted IF stages to generate a baseband signal, which is then digitized. Since components are not ideal, each stage adds errors such as phase and amplitude distortion. Ultimately these errors limit performance and need to be reduced via costly and labor intensive calibration. Philsar's techniques digitize the RF signal after the first IF stage leading to numerous benefits such as fewer down-conversion stages; simplified filtering; fewer components; smaller form factor; lower power consumption; higher performance; lower cost; and streamlined manufacturing. Philsar designed a cable modem transceiver IC for ADC Telcom which reduced the customer's parts count from 800 to 30, saving the manufacturer over $100 million in prod. cost! While typical RF designs achieve accuracy levels of 1-3 dB and 2 - 4, Philsar component-based designs achieve accuracy levels of 0.01dB and 0.06.

The company is currently marketing the PH1575 GPS receiver front-end IC for handheld low power applications. The chipset was designed with a lead customer (Vectorlink, who offers the chip with a digital processor and software as a full GPS receiver) with Philsar retaining the rights to the IP and marketing of the RF front-end IC. The device integrates a LNA, PLL, VCO with on-chip resonator, AGC, crystal oscillator, image reject mixer and a 2 bit ADC. The device has higher integration, lower noise and higher gain then competitive offerings. The high level of integration and low power consumption enables integration of GPS service into mobile devices such as cellular phones and PDAs. A high performance image-reject mixer reduces front-end filtering requirements resulting in lower noise and cost. Several power-down modes extend battery life. A 2-bit ADC and the internal AGC also improve performance and reduce cost. The device is fabricated on a bipolar process.

The GPS chip and other devices were designed using Philsar's RF ASIC methodology, which allows the company to use a library of customizable radio building blocks to produce highly integrated radio designs quickly. Philsar has developed methods to design radio blocks with both reuse and "tunability" in mind. The library includes functions such as LNAs, mixers, VCOs, prescalers, AGCs and PLLs. Additional building blocks will be developed as the company designs chipsets for 2-way radio, PCS, wireless LAN and other RF applications. A narrowband radio chipset for PCS, 2-way paging and consumer radio applications is in development. Bandpass delta -sigma ADC and DAC and fractional-n-synthesizer designs will be incorporated into future system-on-a-chip ICs and may also be marketed as discrete components depending on customer interest.

IBM and Nortel currently provide foundry services, and Philsar is evaluating several other suppliers of advanced Bipolar, BiCMOS, CMOS and SiGe technology. The company views its primary competition as in-house efforts by large OEMs who are undertaking integrated radio designs. Yet Philsar seeks to partner with these same OEMs by establishing design wins that use Philsar's advanced system technology. In addition, as with any integration path, radio systems-on-a-chip will make radio systems accessible to a new tier of customers that don't have radio expertise. Philsar is certainly one of the few start-ups we've seen that's totally focused on radio system-on-a-chip ICs. The company seems to have achieved what we take for granted in the digital domain: higher performance, lower power and smaller size for less money. Sales. reps. are in place in France, Israel, Japan, and parts of Canada and the US.

Luc Lussier, president, CEO & founder
Mike O'Neil, dir., operations & product development
Seste Dell'Aera, dir., sales and marketing
Dr. Martin Snelgrove, chief scientist (formerly at Carleton University High-Speed IC lab)
Mark Cloutier, dir., engineering
Des Hickey, financial controller



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