Rockwell Touts $55 Chip Set

Author:
Publish date:

Rockwell Semiconductor Systems Inc. will hit the market
with a $55, three-chip set for standards-complaint cable modems in May, executives with
the chip giant said last week.

A handful of companies are already in line for the chips,
including Harmonic Lightwaves Inc., 3Com Corp., NEC, Panasonic and new entrant Daewoo
Electronics. The chips were designed to comply with Cable Television Laboratories
Inc.'s MCNS (Multimedia Cable Network System) specification.

Daewoo -- a Korean manufacturer that emerged late last year
as a finalist in Tele-Communications Inc.'s request for cable-modem proposals -- is
preparing for commercial quantities of its cable modem by August.

Daewoo showed a prototype of its work at the Western Show
in December, but only last week did the company and its senior research engineer, Jong
Park, begin to detail its plans.

Park said that Daewoo has quietly been attending MCNS and
IEEE 802.14 standards meetings for over a year. 'We initially were just looking
around,' gathering information for an internal feasibility study, he said.

The study apparently proved lucrative enough for the Korean
television manufacturer to press forward.

'We think that in the future, all consumer-electronics
products will include cable modems -- we see that these high-speed communications
capabilities will be key to the functionality of our products ... and we decided to start
with cable modems,' Park said.

Development work is ongoing in Seoul, Korea, and in Ottawa,
he said.

First out of the gate will be a standards-compliant,
external cable modem with selectable RF or telco-return modules. Later on, as
silicon-integration moves progress, that work will be collapsed onto a single, internally
mounted card, he said.

A digital set-top with an integrated cable modem may also
be in Daewoo's product mix, although Park declined to discuss strategy.

Nor would Park discuss prices, except to say that initial
prices 'will be higher' than a desired sub-$300 modem price point, 'because
there are only a limited number of IC [integrated circuit] vendors for the key silicon
components.'

Under the hood, Daewoo is using chips from Rockwell and
Stanford Telecom.

Trials with cable operators will begin shortly, in
conjunction with Daewoo's headend-product partner, Harmonic, Park said.

On the chip side, Rockwell joins Broadcom Corp., Libit
Signal Processing and Stanford Telecom in the race to equip boards under the cable-modem
chassis.

Rockwell entered the market after purchasing Comstream
Inc.'s chip business last year, said Jay Kshatri, director of broadband-modem
marketing for Rockwell.

'Comstream was the first to have an integrated QAM
[quadrature amplitude modulation] chip back in '94,' Kshatri said, adding that
those chips are widely used in direct-broadcast satellite receivers.

'Rockwell is taking this [cable-modem] business very
seriously,' Kshatri said.

That portfolio starts with Rockwell's 128-pin,
16-to-256 QAM demodulator, the HM2214, which also handles forward-error-correction
decoding and interleaving.

On the upstream side, Rockwell's new, 100-pin HM2314
chip handles BPSK (bipolar phase shift key), QPSK (quadrature phase shift key) and 16-QAM
data streams, as well as U.S. and European modulation (MCNS and DAVIC, which stands for
Digital Audio Visual Council) techniques, executives said.

A third chip, the 160-pin HM8416, will handle
media-access-control functions that receive, process and transfer downstream data for both
RF and telco-return applications. Plus, on-board DES-complaint data encryption provides
data privacy, with a variable-bit-rate input of up to 56 megabits per second, executives
said.

All three chips will be sampled next month and available in
production quantities in May for $55 (in quantities of 10,000). Kshatri said to watch for
a single, integrated modem chip in the fourth quarter of this year.

'Our product road map is to have a single-chip PHY
[physical layer], and then a chip that does the MAC [media-access control] and entire back
end of the modem, and to create a programmable solution on a single chip,' he said.

To accelerate development, Rockwell plans to replicate the
business model that it used with dial-up modem silicon, he said. For cable modems, that
acceleration plan will include a reference-design kit and a production facility in El
Paso, Texas, where Rockwell will manufacture modems for vendors, he said.

This year, Rockwell expects cable-modem vendors to ship
between 600,000 and 1 million modems, Kshatri said.

'We do see retail happening, and we like the looks of
that because companies like Rockwell will be able to drive costs down,' he said,
explaining that Rockwell owns its own chip-fabrication facilities.

Related