IBM expects to maintain its lead in the silicon germanium (SiGe) market, despite emerging competition from companies such as Conexant Sestems, Micrel and Communicant Semiconductor.
IBM currently has 80% of a market worth $320m in 2001. The company cites analyst IC Insights predicting that SiGe revenues will grow to $2.7bn by 2006.
Bernard Meyerson, vice-president of IBM Microelectronics' communications R&D centre at Fishkill, New York, says the company is still well ahead of the competition in this technology: "There are many things we have brought to market that others are now scrambling to reproduce. When we cite record performance, we cite performance in a circuit where the speed is unequivocal. Others are using theoretical numbers."
IBM and Sierra Monolithics have constructed a semiconductor circuit using a SiGe chip operating at 110GHz, a performance Meyerson says is a record for any commercial grade semiconductor material.
IBM makes SiGe chips at its Burlington foundry in Vermont. The production process is similar to CMOS with a couple of extra steps. Meyerson says this means it is easy to adapt a proportion of production to SiGe depending on demand.
"Production capacity is in place; the number of unique tools needed is trivial," he said.
Despite IBM's confidence, the SiGe market could get crowded. Malcolm Penn, chairman and CEO of Future Horizons, says the market is very small compared with the $400bn market for silicon.