GigOptix continues evolution with Helix acquisition

JANUARY 15, 2008 By Stephen Hardy -- GigOptix LLC has expanded both its technology and product mixes with the acquisition of Helix Semiconductor. Zurich-based Helix brings both silicon expertise to GigOptix's existing III-V know-how as well as multi-channel chip sets for transceiver applications.

JANUARY 15, 2008 By Stephen Hardy -- GigOptix LLC has expanded both its technology and product mixes with the acquisition of Helix Semiconductor. Zurich-based Helix brings both silicon expertise to GigOptix's existing III-V know-how as well as multi-channel chip sets for transceiver applications.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition is part of the company's strategy to expand both the technology base and product mix GigOptix started with when it changed its name from iTerra and embarked on a new corporate direction this past fall. ( See story here.) Under the direction of new Chairman and CEO Dr. Avi Katz, the company has begun to expand beyond the electronic devices for ultra-long-haul and submarine applications for which iTerra was known toward a product line that addresses the electronic requirements of optical communications hardware across the board.

According to Katz and Helix Chairman, CEO, and Founder Dr. Joerg Wieland, the two firms are completely complementary. GigOptix has derived most of its customer base from North America and Europe, for example, while Helix has had success in Asia. GigOptix's existing product line addressed serial telecom requirements, while Helix's parallel products saw use most frequently in short-reach data center and other datacom applications. And, as mentioned, the two companies have different materials expertise.

The acquisition significantly expands GigOptix's product line and capabilities, according to Katz. "When you put the technology of both companies together, we are probably the only provider in the market that covers the entire range of drivers and receivers, all the way from the short sub-meter distances for data centers for example all the way up to 1,000 km," he asserts.

In particular, Katz and Wieland envision chips that address high-speed parallel optic applications, particularly 4x25-Gbit/sec devices for 100-Gbit/sec transponders. The devices likely will be based on Helix's 0.13-micron SiGe expertise and should debut this year.

"We strongly believe we will be first to the market with 4x25," Katz predicts. "We have no doubts about it."

The company also expects to be prepared to address proposed 10x10-Gbit/sec PMDs. Other elements of the combined product line include modulator drivers, laser drivers, and TIAs for telecom, datacom, Infiniband, and consumer optical systems, from transmission rates of 3.125 to 100 Gbits/sec. The devices will cover all laser technologies, according to GigOptix.

Wieland says the deal makes sense for Helix, given the obstacles it faced in its efforts to expand its product line into such areas as EPON burst TIA/LIA and other TIA receivers.

"In our industry the NRE costs tend to go up while the volume costs go down. And clearly the trend is in favor of bigger organizations and of horizontally integrated organizations where you can really exploit the joint efforts to come up with these high NRE costs," he explains. "That's opposed to vertical integration, where we think in the future we might even see vertically integrated companies spin out their semiconductor activities because, even for bigger organizations, these NRE costs become unbearable."

Like GigOptix, Helix was privately held and operated under a fabless model. Katz says the similarities in their business approaches should encourage high productivity from the newly joined operations, which will include a single sales and marketing force and what Katz described as a "very strong" analog design team. He adds that the GigOptix roadmap sees the company moving strongly toward silicon technologies in the future, and that he will look to leverage Helix's existing expertise and supplier relationships.

Helix will operate under the name GigOptix-Helix AG and maintain its facilities in Zurich. Katz says that having a European base of operations will bring company resources close to a major customer base. Most if not all of Helix's current employees are expected to be retained. This includes Wieland, who will serve as corporate vice president and general manager of the Zurich operations.

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