NEW YORK -- Eclipsing the legion of chip makers jostling for position in the emerging Bluetooth market, U.K. start-up Cambridge Silicon Radio has announced commercial availability of what may be the first single-chip radio and baseband IC supporting the short-range RF technology.
The news coincided with the Bluetooth Congress 2000 in Monte Carlo, where a who's who of the semiconductor industry touted their latest developments. Despite competition a number of large chip companies, CSR made an early power play by delivering the right component at a price point analysts believe will allow Bluetooth to proliferate in the market.
"We're the first to bring a single-chip Bluetooth component to the market," said Phil O'Donovan, managing director of CSR, which is based in Cambridge, England. "We also offer the lowest-cost solution with our chipset at $8 per unit, which will be reduced to $5 by the end of next year."
CSR's chip set, designed to support Bluetooth's 2.4-GHz frequency, is integrated with an external flash ROM containing the Bluetooth software stack, which the company said is compliant with data and voice communications. To simplify motherboard design, the chipset is optimized to require few external RF components.
CSR this year will ship more than 1 million components to customers that currently consist of Belgian telecom giant Alcatel and Japan-based Tochigi Mitsumi, according to O'Donovan. He would not disclose the foundries under contract to produce the device, but said production was taking place in Asia and Europe. The component is manufactured on a 0.35-micron technology process.
CSR, which spun off from Cambridge Consultants Ltd. in April 1999, designs single-chip radio devices for a variety of short-range radio communications.
The company's investors include Amadeus Capital Partners Ltd., Gilde IT Fund, Intel Capital, and 3I. Cambridge Consultants has retained a minority shareholder stake in the company in exchange for IP rights.
Development of the Bluetooth component began before the spinoff, O'Donovan said, giving the company a strong lead-time advantage over competitors. "When the company was created in 1999, we'd already designed the chip and had a track record for the design of single-chip components."
In addition to handsets, O'Donovan said CSR's Japanese customers are looking at cutting-edge end uses for the device, including "intelligent clothes" that would consist of communication devices worn on shirt sleeves.
However, CSR's solution and other Bluetooth offerings will probably not be applied to commercial devices on a large scale in the near term, said Alan Morrison, an analyst at Strategies Unlimited in Mountain View, Calif.
"Cambridge offers a very clever design, and if they can make the CMOS parts work with other systems, then they'll be very competitive," Morrison said. "But it will take some time for them to integrate it into systems and, along with other devices using Bluetooth technology, you probably won't see sales taking off for another year or two," he said.
Dataquest Inc. also believes broad deployment of Bluetooth is a few years away, but the ramp will happen quickly. The U.S. wireless-data market will grow from 3 million subscribers this year to 36 million in 2003, according to the San Jose-based market research firm.