Chipping in...everywhere

Fri, 11/30/2001 - 7:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

Google Factor: 16,100

With a market cap hovering at $9 billion and a leading chip market share in everything from cable modems to set-tops and cable modem termination systems, Broadcom Corp. remains a force to be reckoned with.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the 1990s. As a start-up, the chipmaker burst onto the scene when Time Warner Cable launched its innovative Full Service Network trial in Orlando, Fla., and offered a suite of digital services, including video-on-demand, to a group of select homes.

Broadcom's role was pivotal, as it provided the silicon for a bulky Scientific-Atlanta Inc.-made digital box that cost, by popular estimates, in the range of $7,500 per unit. At the time, Broadcom (which had about 10 employees then; today about 2,500) supplied three separate chips, but, since then, technical advances have allowed the company to collapse them down, and pass along the cost savings to vendors and cable operators. Today's digital boxes, on average, go for about $300 per unit.

Though Broadcom continues to lead the way on several fronts, including shipments related to cable technology, it is being pressured by companies like Texas Instruments Inc. and Conexant Systems Inc. Plus, some manufacturers, including Pacific Broadband Communications and Terayon's Imedia Semiconductor unit, are making their own chips for cable modems and CMTS gear. Complicating things is start-up Equator Technologies, which has obtained some design wins for its software-centric approach to chipset updates and upgrades.

Broadcom's latest challenge is to win DOCSIS 1.1 certification for its cable modem silicon. Today, the only DOCSIS 1.1-certified cable modems house TI chipsets. However, two CMTSs have been qualified for the advanced spec (Cadant's and Arris'), and they both use Broadcom's silicon.

That's linked to Broadcom's integration work on chips designed to handle primary- and second-line VoIP applications. Its BCM3351, for instance, targets DOCSIS 1.1 and CableLabs' forthcoming CableHome specification. The chip also comes bundled with Broadcom's CablexChange PacketCable software, and houses extensions for wireless home networking protocols such as 802.11x and Bluetooth.


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