TAIPEI, Taiwan This island's top chip designer, Mediatek Inc., is quietly pursuing a broader strategy that may help push the company beyond the one-hit-wonder status of some of its peers. While maintaining its dominant position as a supplier of optical-storage ICs, Mediatek is pursuing internal development and acquisitions to push into mobile-phone chips, wireless-LAN baseband processors and LCD TV image processors.
The company already has handset design wins with South Korea's LG Electronics, Japan's NEC and Taiwan's BenQ, according to analysts. It is also has a design-in at China's Ningbo Bird and reportedly has won over another of China's top cell phone makers.
Analysts estimate the company is shipping about 1.5 million GSM/GPRS chip sets per month and that the total should increase to about 2.5 million by year's end, giving it about 3 percent market share. "Initially, Mediatek will only have access to the lower rung, smaller players. You have to remove Samsung, Nokia, Sony Ericsson — but Motorola is still a possibility," said Dhruv Vohra, a Taipei-based chip analyst at CLSA Asia Pacific Markets. "So there is only about 10 percent of the addressable market for them, but there is still a good scope of growth at this stage."
To bolster its chances, the company has bought Pixtel Communications Inc., a handset software specialist for man-machine interfaces that once did contract work for Motorola Inc. It came with a 70-man team in India, which will allow Mediatek to offer strong software support, especially for Chinese handset OEMs that are still weak in that area.
It also recently committed $50 million over a five-year period to open an IC design center in Singapore. It expects to employ about 35 engineers there by the end of the year and have a staff of about 300 by 2009. It's looking to boost its companywide head count from 1,100 to about 2,500 to 3,000 during the same period.
Part of that growth will come from acquisitions. In addition to Pixtel, Mediatek recently acquired InProcomm, a Taiwanese wireless LAN baseband designer, and is still looking to pick up another WLAN company, according to sources. "They will look to go into that space very hard," said a former InProcomm executive, who asked not to be identified. And Mediatek's close relationship to foundry United Microelectronics Corp., its former parent, could mean low wafer prices that would give it a needed edge in the cutthroat wireless-LAN marketplace.
The company has also been talking about an LCD TV image processor, which it seems to be holding back so it can make some changes to differentiate the device from the current crop of contenders.
Mediatek executives declined to discuss the strategy. But sources said it's clear Mediatek is pushing beyond its core competency in PC optical storage and DVD players. "Optical storage is already quite saturated," said Jessica Chang, who follows Mediatek for Macquarie Securities in Taipei. "They need to get [into] something new."