WTRS Executive Interview

Interview with Jim Lindop, CEO of Jennic Corporation.

July 18, 2006

1. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background?
I've spent my working life in the electronics industry, starting with microprocessor-based aero-engine instrumentation (Rolls Royce), moving to electronic musical instrument design (guitars and drum kits), then consulting in wireless baseband design for many standards (e.g. dect, ct2, phs, wifi) before starting Jennic ten years ago. I was born and have grown up in Northern UK, currently living in Sheffield with partner and two daughters (Jennifer and Nicola. hence the company name Jen-Nic) and two cats. I enjoy ‘diy’ and active sports (skiing and mountain biking).

2. For many who have not been following the details closely, Jennic has been below the radar. Who is Jennic?
Jennic is a privately held fabless semiconductor company developing products for short range wireless sensor networks based on the IEEE802.15.4 and ZigBee standards. Originally founded in 1996 as an IP licensing and design services company, we transitioned to a fabless business model in 2004 to lead the wireless connectivity revolution and develop and manufacture state-of-the-art low power wireless microcontrollers and low cost development platforms for a diverse range of applications. Our company has a track record of successful silicon chip development for wireless applications, and is privately funded by entrepreneurs with significant experience of building billion dollar assets.

3. What differentiates your products from the other ZigBee components being marketed today?
We decided a few years ago that ZigBee and the wireless sensor network market was different to current fashions in wireless and more traditional in requiring enabling technology rather than being a standard to serve a particular application. Wireless, and high-tech startups and marketing has been a trend of a picking a technology to serve specific applications, for instance cellular for mobile phones, wifi for internet, bluetooth for streaming audio. A more traditional view was enabling technology for broad applications such as op amps, microcontrollers and more recently fpga's. Our view is that the market needs enabling technology, i.e. a wireless microcontroller, to serve the broadest range of wireless connectivity. This pervades our thinking, from our product definition through to how support the design-in activity.

4. It appears that much of the Jennic ZigBee network stack, associated libraries, and utilities are available to anyone online, even without a registration requirement. Given that it is virtually unique in the industry, why did you choose this strategy?
This decision was a natural conclusion to the concept of supporting wireless microcontrollers in the worldwide market. We want to provide the best design-in experience possible for anyone wanting to develop a microcontroller-based product with wireless connectivity. As examples our evaluation kits are available ex-stock from distributors such as Digikey, we enable fast development with a range of standards-compliant modules and all software, documentation and application notes are publicly available from our support site. This has required a huge upfront investment but pays dividend in supporting the numbers of new design-ins that we get on a monthly basis.

5. Jennic’s chips are designed for the 2.4 GHz ISM band, do you see demand for 868 MHz in Europe?
In a nutshell, no. We believe, and lack of customer resistance supports our view that the market requires a worldwide standard which is a combination of 2.4GHz and the IEEE802.15.4 standard. There is customer concern over the reliability and interference issues of wireless and 2.4GHz but the benefits, particularly cost and features far outweigh these concerns.

6. What types of sales channels are in place today for Jennic and how do you plan to develop them over time?
We have developed a worldwide sales channel over the last year, with offices in UK, US, Taiwan/Greater China and Japan. Each region is supported by representatives, distributor and local sales, marketing and applications support staff. Our HQ is based in the UK with the R&D, production and support engineering. The prime growth will be in the support functions, particularly in applications as we envisage huge numbers of design-in activity.

7. Jennic appears to have maintained a strong growth path over at least the last 12 months. Do you plan to continue the current pace of acquiring talent and bringing out new products?
Our R&D team is growing steadily from a core team that has been in place for more than five years. We have a well-defined product roadmap stretching into 2008 that concentrates on providing more performance and features at a lower cost. Our target for end 2007 is to provide a 32bit wireless microcontroller for less than $2 in volume. In essence at this price level you can consider either the wireless or the microcontroller is essentially free compared to current market pricing. This requires a very high skill base in all aspects of the company. Once again the main growth will be in finding talented applications and support engineers.

8. Based on your experience with customer requirements in this space, how do you think end users will adopt ZigBee technology?
Over the next year customer demand is for easy-to- use wireless connectivity. With ZigBee being priced so low (cents on chips and modules and $450 in evaluation kits) we expect mass market adoption, as much for 'why not' as opposed to 'why zigbee'. ZigBee, as is the nature of most standards, is complex to be quickly understood, so our main issue is to drive the 'easy-to-use' motto. More than any other company we are trying to allow customers to concentrate on their application rather than be concerned about wireless connectivity, we hide the wireless behind a software library with an applications interface called from a C high-level language. We do see an emerging demand for interoperability, enabled by a range of profiles, but ease-of-use is today’s major adoption issue.

9. Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers as a final note?
To all those people who are defining and developing products using embedded microcontrollers please think whether, for the sake of a few cents, wireless connectivity will add value ... and if so then take a look at www.jennic.com. Apart from the success all at Jennic want I think it’s going to be hugely enjoyable supporting the development of such a broad market.

More information about Jennic here...

This interview ran in our July 18, 2006 newsletter issue.