PALO ALTO, Calif. -- After long nestling under the wing of its parent, Agilent Technologies Inc. has taken flight and is looking to make a sizable nest egg of its own, particularly in wireless.
Agilent, the spinoff of Hewlett-Packard Co., has developed a gallium arsenide (GaAs) technology, upgraded its chip manufacturing operations, and recently announced a line of CDMA-based RF chips. In fact, the company is making a concerted push into CDMA, according to Gary Carr, product manager of the RF Business Unit in Agilent's Wireless Semiconductor Division.
"Although it's coming from a much smaller base, CDMA is the fastest-growing digital-cellular market," Carr said.
Given Agilent's track record, the company appears to have a good chance of competing in this market against the likes of Anadigics, Conexant, Qualcomm, RF Micro Devices, and TriQuint.
Agilent's roots in wireless ICs can be traced to the 1970s, when it was part of Hewlett-Packard's test and measurement operations. But its wireless-IC efforts, along with its test and measurement business, were often overshadowed by HP's vast portfolio of consumer- and business-oriented products, such as PCs, printers, midrange computers, and workstations.
In a corporatewide shakeup last year, HP decided to spin off its test and measurement and component operations into an independent entity. The move has enabled Agilent to become a more nimble player. Perhaps the best kept secret is its component-level products, such as ASICs, fiber-optic devices, and wireless chips. In these segments alone, Agilent realized total 1999 sales of about $1.7 billion.
Sales are growing fastest in wireless, where Agilent has been arespectable but niche player. "Agilent has been very strong in diodes," said George Bechtel, an analyst at Strategies Unlimited in Mountain View, Calif. "Agilent and Infineon are among the leaders in discretes for wireless applications," he said.
But hoping to become more of a mainstream player, Agilent recently
announced its line of CDMA-based RF chipsets, called CDMAdvantage.
The dual-mode product consists of a power amp, downconverter and
upconverter, and other components.
The company has garnered its first customer for the power-amp portion of the chipset, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., the world's largest supplier of CDMA handsets. Samsung also uses RF-chip products from Conexant Systems Inc., among others.
"In the past, we competed in the market with a number of discrete
devices," Carr said. "Now, we hope to offer our customers a more complete solution."
CDMAdvantage is based on a gallium arsenide technology called
Pseudomorphic High Electron Mobility Transistor (PHEMT). The company calls its technology Enhanced-PHEMT (E-PHEMT).
"We've been shipping devices based in PHEMT for many years," Carr said. "We believe that E-PHEMT has some competitive advantages over HBT. E-PHEMT is ideal, for example, for low-power applications."
PHEMT and HBT (heterojunction bipolar transistor) are competitive
GaAs-based technologies vying for dominance in the RF-chip market.
In other Agilent developments, the company has announced it is upgrading its 4-in.-wafer gallium arsenide fab in Santa Clara, Calif.
Agilent executives would not elaborate on those plans, nor would they discuss the rates of production at the fab.
Other CDMA RF-chip suppliers are ramping up their production as well. "If Agilent wants to keep up with its competitors, it will have to invest in new capacity," Strategies Unlimited's Bechtel said.
The stakes are high. Sales of CDMA-based RF chips will grow from $680 million in 1998 to $1.7 billion in 2002, according to the research firm.