Chip-maker Conexant Systems Inc. is muscling into the
cable-modem space, as it will introduce a programmable chip set today (March 1) aimed at
breaking Broadcom Corp.'s domination of the market.
Conexant's CN9414 is the cornerstone of a new line of
digital-broadband products aimed at leveraging the company's core communications and
analog-modem-chip competencies to capture territory in a range of applications, from
digital set-top boxes to integrated telephony and home-networking solutions.
The company claimed that design advantages in the CN9414 --
such as including the microprocessor and other functions on the chip, instead of requiring
circuit-board add-ons -- will cut the cost of cable modems by some 25 percent.
Conexant also said the chip's programmable
architecture enables modem manufacturers to meet changing industry standards via software
upgrades, instead of having to swap out hardwired chips in deployed or inventory modems.
"This product will be the launching pad and the
centerpiece for lots of other digital-broadband products," said Scott Keller,
Conexant's product-line manager for cable-modem integrated circuits. "We truly
believe that it's a generation ahead of everyone else in the industry."
Conexant -- the $1.2 billion-per-year semiconductor
business that Rockwell International spun off in December -- is plowing into a field
dominated by Broadcom and smaller Libit Signal Processing Ltd., the No. 1 and No. 2
That field should become increasingly competitive as each
jockeys to deliver technical advances enabling modem makers to get new advanced products
into the field faster.
For example, Libit announced last month that it and Intel
Corp. were developing specifications for an internal "host-based" cable modem
that would move much of the functionality from the modem chip to the processor in the
host, such as a personal computer, and to random-access memory.
Conexant believes that its advantage is its broad
experience in chip technology -- especially digital-signal processors used in a range of
communications products, such as analog computer modems, wireless and wireline telephones
and broadband networks.
It plans to implement the CN9414 in an array of other
products, such as set-top boxes, home-office equipment and Internet-protocol telephony
Analysts said that by enabling modem makers to adapt to
changing technical standards through software changes, instead of by swapping out
microprocessors, Conexant could realize a key advantage over Broadcom.
Michael Harris, president of Kinetic Strategies Inc., said
most of the chip sets being built to comply with the industry's Data Over Cable
Service Interface Specification 1.0 were hardwired, which limits flexibility once advanced
standard DOCSIS 1.1 becomes reality.
"If it works as advertised, it's a pretty
compelling solution," Harris said. "They've just got to get it to market
and show that it works, because Broadcom has incredible momentum right now."
Harris noted that Rockwell had worked in the
cable-modem-chip arena in fits and starts for several years, notably in a 1998 partnership
with 3Com Corp. and others that ultimately proved unsuccessful as Broadcom began
dominating the market.
Conexant plans volume production of the CN9414 in the third
quarter, although key clients have been sampling the chip for some time.