CEO interview: S3 Semi ready for custom opportunity

October 12, 2017 // By Peter Clarke
John O'Brien, CEO of S3 Group Ltd. (Dublin, Ireland) has been making steady progress in shifting his company's business model from one of service to one that is a mix of products and services and that is particularly true in the semiconductor business division.

The creation of the S3 Semiconductors division with a focus on a design-to-delivery custom chip service for industrial applications (see S3 adds custom chip business model) is the latest step in a progress that could eventually see S3 Semi operating as a fabless chip company – albeit with a twist – O'Brien told eeNews Europe in an interview. Indeed, O'Brien has called S3 Semiconductors "a new breed of semiconductor company."


John O'Brien, CEO of S3 Group

Of course, IP licensing is a form a product business model and it is currently about 30 percent of the semiconductor business, mainly with engagements with semiconductor companies, O'Brien said. The division retains the ability to create and license semiconductor IP but O'Brien said that he is expecting that by the end of 2018 there will be no more purely design service engagements for S3 Semi. The rest of the semiconductor business is moving toward customer-specific ASIC design with the potential to provide some drivers, firmware and software as necessary.

S3 Group Ltd. (Dublin, Ireland) has been an engineer-rich, design-service and IP generating company since its formation as Silicon & Software Systems Ltd. in 1986. The company, still privately held, has received investment of more than $18.5 million in funding from ACT Venture Capital and Enterprise Ireland. S3 received a €10 million (about $12 million) investment in 2005.

With the passage of time the company settled into three specific areas of expertise. In software there was connected health and digital television and on the hardware side mixed-signal and RF circuit design. The digital television business was sold to consulting group Accenture for an undisclosed amount of money in 2015, which does raise the question: is S3 Semiconductor now being groomed for sale?

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