DALLAS -- Alcatel Microelectronics is on a roll. Less than three years after relaunching with a new name and a focus on the U.S. merchant market, the semiconductor division of Belgian communications giant Alcatel Telecom this year expects to derive half its revenue from U.S. business.
fast growth can largely be credited to its parent company's commanding share of the exploding market for ADSL equipment. By virtue of captive chip sales, Alcatel Micro is the leading supplier of ADSL chip sets, with a 52% market share worldwide, according to Dataquest Inc. in San Jose.
the same time, a growing piece of the company's chip business is merchant-market ASICs, building on momentum from its No. 2 position in the worldwide market for mixed-signal ASICs, said Didier Boivin, general manager of North American operations, headquartered in Dallas.
This week, the Brussels-based chip unit will unveil products to bolster both its standard- and custom-chip positions, including a two-chip chip set that provides a complete USB ADSL modem and a high-voltage mixed-signal ASIC family that delivers up to 100 volts for automotive applications.
Both products will shore up Alcatel's leading positions in broadband communications and mixed-signal ASICs and cement the company as a major player in the U.S. chip market, Boivin said.
Alcatel is backing its claim with a significant boost in resources. Of its 1,100 employees worldwide, the U.S. operation is expected to comprise more than 80 -- well above its original target of 60 North American personnel. Additionally, the company is establishing a design center and sales office in Raleigh, N.C., adding sales locations in the San Francisco Bay area and the Northeast regions, and increasing sales, marketing, and technical support in Dallas.
USB expands ADSL offering
Continuing its application-specific drive within the ADSL chip set market, Alcatel has added a USB solution to its DynaMiTe family of ADSL chip sets. The two-chip MTK-20152 chip set integrates a complete ADSL modem that supports both full-rate and G.Lite operation in customer-premise (CP) equipment.
By packing into two chips what others offer in three, Alcatel said it can offer a lower-cost, more compact solution for the price-and space-sensitive consumer market.
The chip set helps fill out Alcatel's customer-premise offering, which recently expanded to include a controllerless PCI product for cost reduction. The company has also been adding to its portfolio of central-office ADSL chip sets, which this year will represent 55% of its ADSL sales volume, measured by installed lines. Prior to last year, its ADSL product line was a fairly generic offering, according to Boivin.
"By 1999, we had products servicing all segments [of ADSL], but with only one type of product," he said. "Today, we're coming up with products for dedicated parts of the market. Looking at the CP segment, we're starting to see more and more demand for USB."
Alcatel will offer the MTK-20152 chip set as a silicon-only solution, or as a complete package with software to support the various protocols associated with ADSL, Boivin said.
"This will allow customers to design a product more quickly and increase their time-to-market," he said. "And it's a good way for us to get more involved with customers and help them support demand."
The MTK-20152 features low power consumption, which enables OEMs to design bus-powered USB ADSL modems, eliminating the need for external power supplies.
The USB 1.1-compatible solution supports RFC 1483 classical IP-over-ATM and PPP-over-ATM and a variety of networking features to take advantage of next-generation DSL technology.
Alcatel expects to begin volume production of the chip set in the third quarter. Pricing was not available, but will be based on quantity, the company said.
Mixed-signal ASIC boost
Meanwhile, the company's custom-chip business will get a boost from the development of a technology that will extend its high-voltage ASIC family to 100 V. The Intelligent Interface Technology (I2T), based on a 0.7-micron CMOS process, is geared toward consumer and industrial applications that need high-voltage interfaces between sensors and microcontrollers, according to Bernard Goffart, Alcatel Micro's technical marketing manager.
"The most promising market for us, where we're having the most design success, is automotive," Goffart said. "The electronic content of cars is booming-people are talking about having up to 70 microcontrollers in one car."
Of Alcatel's merchant-ASIC business, automotive represents 20% of sales; about half of that market can be addressed by I2T, Goffart noted.
PC peripherals such as printers, scanners, and joysticks also represent a volume opportunity for the I2T-based ASICs, while industrial applications like smoke detectors and circuit breakers are a smaller but stable source of business, he added.
The I2T100 family marks the completion of the full voltage range of Alcatel's 0.7-micron process. As with its ADSL chip set strategy, Alcatel's high-voltage ASICs have gone from being one-size-fits-all to addressing specific market needs, Goffart said. The new family encompasses general-purpose 5- and 15-V products, with 40-, 60-, and 100-V offerings targeted at low-power systems, motor drivers, and automobiles, respectively.
Though the chips do not boast the high density of some leading-edge ASICs, they pack an 8-bit microcontroller, ROM, RAM, and all the other elements necessary to create a high-voltage interface, Goffart said.
"They are exactly what the automotive industry is looking for: low complexity and low cost," he said.
The company is working on its next-generation I3T technology, which will integrate the same high-voltage module in a 0.35-micron CMOS process to allow higher levels of integration. The ASIC family is expected to debut in 2002.
The I2T family is supported by a library of 5-V digital CMOS components; complementary high-voltage DMOS transistors; bipolar transistors -- MPM and PMP -- for precision analog applications; one-time programmability via a 4-Kbit per square millimeter EEPROM; protection circuitry for all voltage levels; and an extensive set of passive components.