Ronald Wilting, CEO
From a digital wristwatch to the most complex circuitry used on aircraft, almost all electronic equipment needs to be synchronized to another device. Especially in the telecommunication industry synchronization is key, since base stations depend on timing to operate correctly. And now with the 5G standard, time synchronization has become even more stringent. An important component that enable’s the frequency and time synchronization is the crystal oscillator. A crystal oscillator uses the mechanical resonance of piezoelectric material to create an electrical signal with a very precise frequency. However the dimensions of the crystal depend on temperature and the stiffness depends on temperature and time. This inaccuracy is often referred to as stability, and various stability compensating solutions have been developed, but all have certain disadvantages.
Surprisingly, for the large role they play, crystal oscillators have not seen many technological improvements to either their design or operation over the last 20 years. With innovations like 5G, Internet-of-Things (IoT), car-radar and other electronic products using communication technologies gaining significant popularity, the need for extremely stable and cost-effective crystal oscillators are now at an all-time high. In order to facilitate the communication industry with the necessary tools to achieve their integrated circuit building goals successfully and affordably, SemiBlocks has engineered a set of highly nuanced crystal oscillators that promise exceptional performance in any situation.
Founded in 2017, SemiBlocks’ crystal oscillator products are based on a concept created by Rob van der Valk, CTO of SemiBlocks, many years ago. “Our CTO is a veteran electronics software engineer who devised a new kind of crystal oscillator with a colleague who excels at analog circuitry,” expresses Ronald Wilting, CEO of SemiBlocks. With the help of the duo’s research and development, the invention was patented in 2013. This new crystal oscillator, dubbed the SmartXtal, outweighed its predecessors in many respects. “A crystal oscillator’s frequency stability is of utmost importance.
With our new invention, we found a new way to predict the short- and long-term stability performance of a AT-cut crystal resonator and can compensate for that mathematically
The stability over a short time interval is limited by the frequency drift due to changing temperature conditions,” explains Wilting. Oven controlled crystal oscillators (OCXOs) stabilise temperature drifts at an even 80°C using specialized SC-cut crystals inside an miniature-oven. This process, unfortunately, results in a large and costly device, which is less suitable for today’s technological requirements. Other solutions, i.e. the temperature compensated crystal oscillators (TCXOs) were invented, that focus on lower cost and smaller size. However, these devices lacked in performance as the sensors in the circuit failed to precisely track the crystal’s temperature.
The SmartXtal overcomes the misgivings of both OCXOs and TCXOs by leveraging multimode technology that determines temperatures via triple mode oscillators and utilises an algorithm running on the internal microprocessor to manage performance. “With this new invention, we found a new way to predict the short- and long-term stability performance of a crystal resonator and can now compensate for that mathematically,” adds Wilting. The SmartXtal uses AT-cut crystals that allow it to be cheap and since the rest is implemented in silicon, it further reinforces its cost-effectiveness and performance parameters. SemiBlocks is currently in the development stages of various products that have already won the votes of many investors and stakeholders through a series of successful proof of concept presentations. One product is the SBO8001AA; it provides a highly accurate clock for reference in various timing functions and is delivered as a system-in-package with flash memory, crystal resonator, and a multimode IC. “We have gone through all the steps of innovation to SemiBlocks’ current stage of product development with our SmartXtal solution,” states Wilting.
Moving forward, as 5G technologies begin to open new avenues in connectivity, SmartXtal crystal oscillators possess the necessary timekeeping capabilities to help various smart devices adapt and perform effortlessly. SemiBlocks intends to stay ahead of the curve in the telecommunication markets as well, improving frequency measurement operations, broadcasting, radar solutions, and phase-locked loop systems that deliver accurate reference clock in a small form factor, helping out in the optimum design of modern PLL systems.