TOKYO — Touting itself as
Japan's first independent design house with an analog and RF
focus, Analog and RF Tec. Inc. plans to integrate analog
features into an RF IC in one year, design an RF large-scale
integrated circuit in two years, and score major intellectual
property (IP) sales for new generations of Honda and Sony
robots along the way.
And that's not all. The IP house also wants to train new
generations of analog engineers that Japan so badly needs,
said Tomoyasu Kato, a former Bell Labs engineer who now serves
as president of Analog and RF.
To attain these goals, Kato and his management team will
exploit a clutch of academic connections while emulating U.S.
design houses to support customer demands for cutting-edge
architectures. Analog and RF's first big opportunity, Kato
said, will be in adding analog to RF ICs for major mobile
phone circuit makers such as Kyocera Corp., Murata
Manufacturing Co. Ltd. and TDK Corp. While all are notable
suppliers of RF system-on-chip ICs, Kato said they have
neither high-frequency component capability nor the personnel
resources to push further integration.
"Our target is very open and clear; we'll try to meet
customers quickly-changing needs," Kato said. "The chip
component vendors and the IC vendors are separate. Not one of
our potential customers have finished programs. If we can
integrate [analog] on-chip we can support their technologies."
While the company has only about $80,000 in startup
capital, all raised by the four founders themselves, Kato
believes he has access to all the resources the company will
need. First is a rare luxury in Japan: cheap labor. In a case
of academic-industry cooperation, Kato has recruited Atsushi
Iwata of Hiroshima University to provide analog expertise, and
Makoto Nagata from Chuo University (Tokyo) to provide analog
power know-how. Both Iwata and Nagata are acting as technology
counselors to Analog and RF.
Secondly, Kato has hired Hinata Technology Inc. (Kawaski,
Japan), a CAD/Verilog training consultancy led by fellow
Analog and RF founder Hitomi Sato, to boost the company's
recruitment and digital capabilities. Hajime Kobayashi, a
retired general manager of NEC Corp.'s semiconductor sales
division, is another founder.
Analog and RF, which has already attracted interest from
Toppan Printing Co. Ltd. and from undisclosed CAD design
ventures, plans to reach sales of almost $1 million in its
first year, Kato said.
Kato said it will be relatively easy to hit the company's
first objective of integrating analog components into an RF
IC. But the company's longer-term objectives, and big money
earners, relate to the linking of disparate technologies.
"Japanese companies have many excellent in-house digital
LSI design teams and RF IC teams. There are also a growing
number of ASIC houses. But digital, RF and analog LSI design
are separated," Kato said.
"I have the RF [expertise], Iwata has the analog and
Sato-san has the digital customers. This is a real venture. We
can do it by ourselves, and we are open to every customer," he
Beyond his company's integration goals, Kato plans to
target sensor integration aimed at future generations of
robots by companies such as Sony and Honda.
"Robots need big analog components and so many analog
chips. I don't say we can do that now, because we are a very
small company, but they might need us," he said.
Kato, a 53-year-old RF engineer who served stints at Oki
Corp., TI Japan and Fairchild Semiconductor, said he was
frustrated to be pushed out of design and into a managerial
role to support a limited Japanese customer base for AT&T.
His solution was to found Analog and RF.
"I am a high-frequency guy," he said. "I needed the
Prior to founding Analog and RF, Kato's career is an
unfortunate and familiar story for analog engineers in Japan,
said vice president Sato. Talented engineers are expected to
go into management as part of the routine job-rotation
practices at large corporations. But pay is also becoming a
critical issue, she said, enough to threatened Japan with a
brain drain of talent to the United States.
"Engineers here do not earn enough," she said. "Top masters
and PhDs can go to the United States and earn a lot more."
Another problem — increasingly aired across Japan — is a
crisis in training itself, said Kato. Echoing comments made by
other Japanese executives, Kato suggested that Japan needs to
rethink its analog education programs from the ground up. At
Japanese universities, Kato said students are given typical
circuit models and are asked to write papers on them. He
called this "making paper."
"If a Japanese semiconductor company says to a young
engineer, 'Hey, design a new RF chip in one year,' how are
they going to do it?," he asked. "In Japan, basic education is
done in the company for three years, and Japanese companies
and their customers don't have that sort of time anymore."
"We should solve the shortage of engineers," said Tetsuya
Iizuka, chief executive officer of Thine Electronics Inc., a
fabless chip design firm, said. "It's becoming a very serious
Analog and RF has already cracked some institutional
barriers by recruiting Iwata, who as an academic is prevented
by the Ministry of Education Science and Technology from
founding his own businesses, Kato said.
Iwata had established his own analog research faculty at
Hiroshima in the mid-90s, and said he had amassed considerable
expertise but felt unable to connect to industry.
"Analog-based devices have become one of the keys to unlocking
development of next-generation LSIs," he said. "We want to
address the lack of engineers in Japan and this is a new style
Analog and RF also wants to play a reciprocal role with
Hiroshima and Chuo Universities by introducing training
programs and lessons on forming ventures there. Kato will play
an important role in recruiting talent from a clutch of
startups near the company's base in KRP Research Park
(Kawasaki, Japan). And the company is not averse to recruiting
from Japan's larger companies, Kato said.
"We are going to use our connections and the universities
and we will recruit Japan's skillful engineers. If they want
to come to us, we are open to them. If he or she is skillful,
we are open," he said. "Anything is open."