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Sean Riley, corporate vice president, Lattice Semiconductor

Interview with Sean Riley

Sean Riley, Lattice Semiconductor's corporate vice president and general manager of high density solutions, talks with New Electronics

NE: You have now been with Lattice Semiconductor for approximately six months, what motivated you to join Lattice?
SR: Change, challenge and opportunity. In July 2008 Bruno Guilmart joined Lattice as its ceo and since then he has not just reorganised Lattice, he's reshaped it as well, with differentiated products and a focus on markets where Lattice is extremely competitive. The executive management team at Lattice also has changed, and as part of that I joined Lattice in September 2008. Lattice is a financially sound company with innovative products and a growing, loyal customer base. We have enormous potential to grow and increase market share, and our new products are very compelling.
Lattice ships over 20million devices every quarter. Because attention usually is paid to Xilinx and Altera, people often are surprised to learn just how broad our product portfolio is: FPGAs and CPLDs, of course, but also programmable mixed signal devices such as our clock and power management products, as well as comprehensive software design tools and an extensive library of IP cores.

NE: You mentioned differentiated products and market focus as strengths. Can you elaborate?
SR: The most recent example is our mid range LatticeECP3 FPGA family, which was introduced in February and extends the benefits of our award winning LatticeECP2M FPGAs. The ECP3 is a great example of the benefits of listening to your customers, and then acting on what you've heard. In this case our customers were very outspoken about their need for an FPGA that was low power and economical, yet didn't compromise on features. The result was the very low power and value-priced ECP3, which nonetheless delivers high speed SERDES, very fast I/O, dsp blocks and high density on chip memory. Our customers have embraced the ECP3 enthusiastically, particularly in wireless and wireline applications. Security and surveillance is also a growing market for our ECP3 and XP2 FPGAs, and we're working with partners such as Maxim to deliver superior design solutions for those applications.

NE: What is your view of the competitive situation in the programmable logic industry?
SR: Of course Xilinx and Altera are the giants of the industry, and both are very well run companies. However, it is clear that there is definitely a demand for a 'third force' in programmable logic. Giants have their own vulnerabilities, and both Xilinx and Altera have a very broad range of products to support, so their emphasis is on products, more so than on customers. In contrast, our more focused approach means we can listen to our customers and design products that more closely meet their real world needs, which is why our new FPGA products are so clearly differentiated, and why they continue to grow faster than our competitors' products. Returning to the example of the ECP3, we listened to our customers, we responded, and as a result we continue to maintain a competitive advantage.

NE: What is your view of the several FPGA startups that have recently announced products?
SR: My view is that the industry has significant barriers to entry, and I speak from experience, having been with a programmable logic startup myself. The Achilles heel for startups is on the software design tools side, not the silicon side. In fact, it is a Catch 22 of sorts, because the radically different silicon architectures developed by startups are precisely those that cannot take advantage of existing tools. Instead, the tools must be custom built, which is an enormous challenge for a startup, and also not an effort third party tool vendors are likely to undertake. Finally, even if the tools are developed, they are unfamiliar to the customers, who are not willing to adopt entirely new design methodologies. So, in effect, the more unorthodox the silicon, the less likely it is that there will be viable design tool support.
The gap in design tools between a startup and companies like Lattice, Xilinx and Altera is huge. At Lattice, our investment in design tools is substantial and ongoing. It is no exaggeration to say that without robust and familiar design tools no programmable logic company can be successful.

NE: How important is the European market for Lattice?
SR: It is absolutely essential. We have always had a very strong presence in Europe, including our direct sales and field applications personnel, as well as our distributors. Some of our largest customers are in Europe, such as digital video pioneer Vitec Multimedia and we partner with very innovative companies such as wireless solutions provider Affarii, which provides us with cutting edge intellectual property cores. Overall, Europe accounts for over 20% of our revenue and will continue to be a vital part of our success.

Author
Chris Shaw

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