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Approaching broadband from the ground up

Fri, 11/30/2001 - 7:00pm
Roger Brown

Google factor: 9,890

They may not be sexy, but just like high-powered automobiles that rely on fuel to make them run, advanced cable modems and set-tops boxes likewise rely on semiconductors to make everything happen.

Conexant Systems Inc. is one of a finite group of semiconductor companies focused keenly on the broadband access and Internet infrastructure market.

Born as independent company in January 1999 after Rockwell International Corp. spun off its Rockwell Semiconductor Systems business to shareowners, this "start-up" came with an impressive pedigree. It is now aimed directly at wireline voice and data communications networks, cellular telephony systems and cable and fixed wireless broadband communications networks.

With competitors like Broadcom, Texas Instruments and LSI Logic, among others, Conexant can't afford to drop the ball. So far, it hasn't. The company developed an integrated MAC and PHY chip for DOCSIS cable modems called the CN9414. It is the first single-chip DOCSIS design to include an integrated microprocessor and offer fully-programmable MAC functionality.

That "single-chip" approach was used for the company's CX24420 digital cable transceiver, which combines simultaneous cable modem functionality and interactive cable broadcast for set-top boxes. That same chip comes with integrated quadruple demodulator paths combined with dual return channel paths, which enables it to manipulate two input video streams. That comes into play in personal video recorders.

Single-chip approaches are good news to equipment manufacturers as they struggle to lower prices through reduced-sized bills of materials. Conexant officials estimate that the CX24420 will help reduce set-top box costs by "at least" $130–a bold statement but one that, if true, will come as music to the ears of cable operators.

Beyond that, Conexant execs see the device as critical to the development of the nascent home gateway industry as consumers and service providers work to enable in-home networks.

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