Creator of ‘virtual silicon’ device secures US$1 million in orders

4 Feb 2010

A Belfast tech start-up has developed a new type of ‘virtual silicon’ device that is set to revolutionise the €2-billion a year fibre-optic comms business.

Omiino has already secured more than US$1 million in orders for the virtual silicon technology, including a major unnamed Tier 1 Silicon Valley telecoms supplier.

The company’s portfolio of virtual application-specific standard parts (vASSPs) is causing a stir among electronics manufacturers, especially those who make and consume present-generation application specific standard parts (ASSPs) that are used in current optical telecoms networks.

With the internet driving demand for bandwidth at an increasing rate, vendors are struggling to respond to fast-moving markets as ASSPs become less viable due to the massive up-front investment and long product development cycles required.

By contrast, Invest NI-backed Omiino’s vASSPs can be developed in a fraction of the time and costs up to 50pc less than an ASSP equivalent. Uniquely, they can be reprogrammed in the field, allowing customers to offer new services without having to change equipment

Omiino’s secret of success

The secret of Omiino’s success is a technology pioneered by one of its three founders, all of whom previously worked at Nortel Network’s former research and development operation in Belfast.

The technology enables small, low-cost field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to behave like the much more expensive ASSPs normally used in optical transport networks. The arrays are manufactured by Xilinx who also programme them for customers using code supplied by Omiino.

While other FPGA-based solutions are available, they have met with limited success because of their high prices or limited features. As a result, they offer little advantage over traditional ASSPs and are generally relegated to a niche in the optical transport silicon market.

Omiino CEO and co-founder, Gary Hamilton, believes the company currently has a three-year lead over its competitors and says the company is continuing to innovate to sustain this lead.

“Size, or rather lack of it, is the key to our success. Our technology allows us to use an FPGA that is up to four times smaller than our competitors, which reduces the cost of the chip considerably.

“As a result, our vASSP silicon chips are unique in delivering the combination of low costs, rapid availability and market agility that make them a very attractive mainstream alternative to ASSPs,” said Hamilton.

“We have had the opportunity to demonstrate and benchmark our vASSP silicon solutions to Tier 1 global customers in the US, Asia-Pacific and Europe and we have been able to validate that the savings, performance and time-to-market benefits we deliver for our customers really are second to none.

“We believe we are therefore very well placed to exploit a rapidly growing market that is currently worth US$2 billion. Capturing a modest 2-5pc share would generate revenues of between to $20 million-$100 million so it’s an opportunity we are extremely excited about,” Hamilton added..

Invest Northern Ireland’s Director Ireland, Jenny Young, said she was impressed by the company’s technology. “It takes a truly innovative mindset to carve out a brand new niche in the extremely competitive silicon market today.

“Omiino has shown that Northern Ireland has the correct mixture of talent and costs it takes to do just that,” Young said.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years