SANTA CLARA, Calif. ( ChipWire) Intent on recreating itself, Oren Semiconductor Inc. here is bringing in a new CEO, rolling out improved VSB/QAM chips for the U.S. digital TV market and branching out into the red-hot broadband wireless market.
Jacob Tanz, a chip-industry veteran with experience in broadband cable markets, takes the hot seat as Oren's new president and chief executive officer. He's looking to boost revenue and ensure growth by expanding Oren's business beyond its current focus on terrestrial digital and analog TV.
"The U.S. DTV market is not expanding as fast as other communication markets," said Tanz, the former North American sales and marketing vice president for Libit Signal Processing Ltd. in Herzia, Israel, a cable-modem technology company that was acquired last year by Texas Instruments Inc. Oren will continue to invest in the development of vestigial sideband (VSB) technology, but the company "cannot depend on the DTV market to expand our revenue bases. It's just not big enough," Tanz added.
Oren's current bread-and-butter product is a ghost cancellation chip used in a majority of TV sets designed and manufactured by consumer electronics companies in Asia. The company now employs 80 workers, and is going for its fourth round of funding.
Broadband wireless, known also as "multipoint, multichannel distribution service" (MMDS) or "fixed wireless," is the carrot Oren is chasing. And it's not alone. A substantial number of chip vendors and service providers are looking at MMDS as an alternative to digital subscriber lines and cable modems for broadband Internet access.
"We can leverage all the underlying modulation technologies we developed for the digital terrestrial market into the new, fixed wireless communication world," Tanz said, because no true MMDS standard exists yet modulation schemes, quality-of-service requirements and line-of-sight connections are still in question.
Complicating the standards debate, Oren has submitted to the IEEE 802.16 committee its own proposal. Oren's proposed technologies consist of an orthogonal frequency-division modulation (OFDM) system for a multitone broadband wireless solution and quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) technology for a single-tone system. Oren's goal is to roll out the company's own broadband wireless product line early next year, according to Tanz.
Meanwhile, Oren has just released the company's third-generation VSB and VSB/QAM chips for the U.S. DTV market. Based on the same programmable DSP architecture used in VSB and QAM demodulation chips the company announced last year, Oren engineers made further enhancements in equalization algorithms to improve VSB reception. Both OR51211, Oren's new VSB chip, and OR41221 are designed to run both VSB and 64QAM/256QAM and use a 576 tap full equalizer, providing a microsecond standard equalization range of -4.5 to +44.6. The new ICs come with an integrated A/D converter, integrated tuner control and direct I/F conversion.
Rather than using fixed pipe-line signal-processing circuitry that is hard to change, Oren's VSB chip uses adaptable filter blocks controlled by a central DSP.
Customer field tests done in early September using the new demodulation chips show that "our VSB solution today is up to par with the OFDM standard" with regard to signal reception, said Mike Hurlston, vice president of marketing at Oren. Using a test bed developed by the Advanced Television Testing Center (ATTC), Oren's new-generation VSB chip "has shown significant improvement," he said.
For example, in an 0.5-Hz dynamic ghost test one of the ATTC-designed tests whose results correlate to the chip's signal reception ability using an indoor antenna Oren's new RE51211 VSB chip demonstrated 4.0 dB, a 50 percent improvement over the company's previous VSB chip, which marked 6.6 dB, Hurlston said. Such a performance far exceeds the industry's benchmark of 9.1 dB, he added.
"The reality is that the VSB performance that exists today is good," Tanz said. "I've seen it working well in field tests with live feeds, using an indoor antenna." Asked whether broadcasters may still have serious concerns over the modulation scheme, Tanz flatly said, "The issues broadcasters are facing are related to a business model, nothing to do with the technology."
Oren's new OR51211 VSB chip, available now, is priced at $21 each in 10,000 units, while the OR51221 VSB/QAM chip sells for $24 each in the same quantities.