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Sound firm takes top award for easy listening

Miniature voice and hearing technology has proved a winner for Dspfactory

A Swiss-Canadian firm, Dspfactory, has walked away with top honours at the Swiss Economic Forum meeting, which ended in the town of Thun on Friday.

The firm won the annual Swiss Economic Award for its ground breaking sound technology, which is found in everything from hearing aids to CD players.

Dspfactory specialises in technology which can filter out background noise using digital signal processing (DSP). The technology converts sound into a numerical form so that it can be sent through an electronic circuit.

The five-year-old company employs 74 people in Canada and Switzerland, and last year sales exceeded CAD20 million (SFr19 million).

DSP forms the basis of many areas of technology such as mobile phones, multimedia computers, video recorders, CD players, hard disc drive controllers and modems, and will soon replace analogue circuitry in televisions and telephones.

"Our technology has a variety of means of identifying what is a desired signal such as speech, identifying undesired signals such as noise, and determining which of those need to be filtered in and which of them need to be filtered out," Geoff Bellew, vice-president of sales and marketing, told swissinfo.

Key component

"Imagine you are in a noisy restaurant and you're trying to make a phone call," added Peter Balsiger, president of Dspfactory, which is based in Marin, Switzerland.

"Digital Signal Processing can clean your voice from all this background noise and Dspfactory is offering technology which can do these applications for the telecom market, the cellular phone market or for digital hearing aids.

"Hearing impaired people can listen and understand in difficult audio situations such as traffic noise, car noise, office noise, restaurant noise or just everywhere where it's not calm and quiet."

Dspfactory is a global company with two bases: the Neuchâtel region of Switzerland and Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

"We do the design concept in Canada and the team in Switzerland have specific expertise in shrinking ideas into the smallest silicon space possible," said Bellew.

"Swiss technology has always been at the forefront in the world in terms of miniaturisation."

Global operation

The Swiss office is also the base for European sales and marketing and the Middle East.

Dspfactory emerged in 1998 as a spin-off of Canadian hearing-aid manufacturer Unitron and has been growing ever since. The research and manufacturing facility, which employs 27 people was established in Switzerland in 2001.

Dspfactory's original products were tiny silicon chips and software used in state-of-the-art hearing aids.

In addition to their minute size and low power needs, the company's chips can be programmed so that manufacturers of hearing devices can adapt them to their own products

The company has struck deals with hearing-aid makers in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia, including Switzerland's Phonak group and Starkey Laboratories in the US. It supplies technology for about a third of the digital market.

"Our market share today is fast growing and we would like to be in two years from now the leading provider of DSP technology to the whole hearing-aid market," said Balsiger."

New markets

The company is now pursuing other markets such as headsets, mobile phones and personal digital assistants.

"Our world is becoming mobile," said Balsiger. "In the US, 72 per cent of all phone calls with cellular phones are made in cars. In cars you have background music, talking children, traffic noise, your own car noise."

In computer-recognised speech, it is also vital to filter out unwanted noise and have clear voice recognition.

Sales are growing annually by 40 per cent, and the company expects to employ about 100-110 people in two years' time.

Second place in Friday's Swiss Economic Awards went to Bern-based medical data company, Qualidoc; while drug discovery company, Axovan, from the Basel area, came third.

swissinfo, Vincent Landon


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