Music Semiconductors Inc.'s claim to fame is introducing content addressable memory (CAM) to the networking market, yet the fabless chip company may be best known for selling its ternary CAM assets last year to Micron Technology Inc.
Micron's dabble in TCAMs was ill-fated, but Music plays on in the smaller, less glamorous binary CAM arena.
The company's decision to invest its future in binary CAM still has analysts baffled, but executives at Music said they are not looking back.
With 2002 revenue of $5.3 million, Music estimates its share of the binary CAM market to be 75%, while competitors such as Integrated Device Technology, Cypress Semiconductor, NetLogic Microsystems, and Sibercore Technologies have primarily focused on more complex TCAMs.
Meanwhile, sales of TCAMs--once projected to be well more than a $1 billion market--have shriveled to less than $70 million annually amid the communications industry downturn, according to iSuppli Corp., El Segundo, Calif.
Binary CAMs are used for high-speed router table searches, to match a packet header against stored address data. Though they, too, are a much smaller segment than before the dot-com crash, binary CAMs are still a viable and profitable commodity niche--with gross margins averaging 70%--supplying low-end network equipment such as Ethernet switches and routers, cable head-end modems, and DSLAMs, said Mike Burton, president and chief executive of Music, Orlando, Fla.
"We're not seeing any lack of interest by companies to use our devices," Burton said. "We continue to supply to all the major networking companies in the world. And we do what we can to keep it fresh by adding new products and features."
Music, which stands for Multi User Specialty Integrated Circuits, designs and markets CAMs with densities of 0.5 to 8Kbits and bus widths of 64 to 80 bits. This year the company plans to increase density to 16Kbits and integrate the LA-1 standard network processor interface, as well as boost lookup speeds.
New applications continue to emerge as well, such as RAID storage systems, which use CAMs to manage redundant lookup tables, said Paul Winders, applications manager.
Burton said design wins, which dried up from 2000 to 2001, began to recover last year, and should provide a nice revenue kicker when they go into production later this year.
Analysts are skeptical, however, believing the network search-engine mar-ket has permanently moved on to TCAM, which has the ability to do more sophisticated packet searches.
"I don't anticipate that any other players will enter the binary CAM market or that it will be a viable market segment in the future," said Rhondalee Donovan of Semico Research Corp. in Los Gatos, Calif. "The train has left the station."
Nevertheless, it's been a good niche for Music, which shipped more than 200,000 binary CAMs in 2002, Burton said. Despite the near-bankrupt state of its parent, Music Corp., which is based in the Philippines, the U.S. subsidiary generates positive cash flow to fund its 60-person operation, he said.
The company retains 40 employees at an ISO-certified IC test factory in Manila. Wafer processing is done primarily by Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd., while Amkor Technologies Inc. and ASE handle packaging of the CAMs.
Music's products are distributed by Sager Electronics in the United States, and by a network of manufacturers' representatives in Europe, Japan, and Asia-Pacific.