Editor’s note: In the second part of Local Tech Wire’s executive Q&A interview, Bob Lynch talks about the technical side of Nitronex. With all the talks these days about 2.5g and 3g wireless networks, Nitronex may be a key company in making the hype a reality.

Having developed powerful and cheaper-to-produce chips based on gallium nitride, Nitronex is in position to provide a key component of advanced networks, says Bob Lynch, Nitronex’s president and chief executive officer.

In fact, Lynch calls GaN “the holy grail” of semiconductors.

Local Tech Wire recently asked Lynch to help people understand what his company is all about.

To help our readers better understand what Nitronex is all about, can you put in layman’s terms how your process differs from other chip manufacturing? Why was this so innovative?

Nitronex is different for two reasons. First, we grow the world’s highest-quality gallium nitride crystals. Second, we deposit that high-quality GaN on the most common and inexpensive substrate available today: silicon. The result is the highest-power, lowest-cost semiconductor in the world.

What exactly is gallium nitride in layman’s terms?

Gallium nitride is considered to be the holy grail of semiconductors. GaN is the only material in the world that supports both high frequency and high power. Other semiconductors do one or another — but GaN does both.

What’s a “substrate”?

Gallium nitride crystals must be grown, and a substrate is what the GaN is grown on. There are different types of substrates, varying in size, cost and availability. Silicon is the most common and least expensive substrate available. Nitronex grows its high-quality GaN on large-area silicon wafers.

We’ve heard a great deal about advanced 2.5g and 3g network capabilities. Please explain how Nitronex will assist in the deployment of these networks.

Wireless networks were designed for voice communications. The advent of next-generation wireless data applications is pushing base stations beyond their limits. Nitronex is developing gallium nitride-based components that dramatically improve wireless signal transmission. Without these improvements, cellular carriers cannot successfully deploy high-margin 2.5 and 3G network services.

In what other devices will your products have an impact, and why?

The products we are developing are exclusively for wireless communications. But we are licensing our GaN and GaN-on-silicon platform technologies to high-volume manufacturers of non-wireless products. This includes blue lasers and high-temperature electronics. Using GaN in high-voltage rectifiers, for example, could have reduced the power grid overloads that plagued Calif. last year.

Of the four graduate students who conceived and invented the process, what has happened to them? Are they still with the company? If so, what positions – and how important are they to the company’s ongoing work?

The four NC State graduate students that founded Nitronex have and continue to be extremely important to the company’s success. For example, one heads our development efforts while another is a professor at NC State — providing Nitronex with close ties to the University, an international center for semiconductor research.

How many patents does the company hold now, and in what areas? Are others in process?

Nitronex has more than 25 patents issued or pending, ranging from wireless devices to GaN crystal growth.

What revenue are you generating now? How close to cash-flow positive? If not, what’s the target?

We will begin volume production of our packaged wireless components next year. We are already generating revenue from the non-wireless companies we’ve licensed our platform technologies to. Nitronex doesn’t disclose financials, but we expect to be cash-flow positive in early 2004.

What do you want to do with the company long-term – take it public? Sell it?

Our long-term goal is to make Nitronex the undisputed worldwide leader in gallium nitride. This growth path will likely include an IPO.

Part one of Lynch Interview:
www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=541