After more than 20 years supplying ASICs solely to Hewlett-Packard Co., Agilent Technologies Inc. is taking its custom-chip design capability to the merchant market.
The Palo Alto, Calif., company, a former business unit of HP, plans to target a few large OEMs that have a "critical mass of ASIC available market" in computing, storage, and networking, said James Stewart, vice president and general manager of the ASIC Product Division of Agilent's Personal Systems Business Unit.
Agilent had approximately $400 million in ASIC revenue in 2002, according to Gartner Dataquest, San Jose. The company has six ASIC design centers around the world, and more than 300 ASIC designers. However, it will outsource all ASIC manufacturing, using the foundry services of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., United Microelectronics Corp., and a joint venture fab with Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd.
Agilent is entering the ASIC market at a time when design opportunities for the single-use chips are diminishing. iSuppli Corp., El Segundo, Calif., recently estimated that in 2002 fewer than 1,500 new ASIC projects were undertaken as system designers opted instead to use ICs that can be applied to many applications.
Still, the company believes the reputation and "broad and deep" product portfolio of its $1.6 billion Semiconductor Products group will help it win ASIC sockets at existing customers.
For example, in 2000 Agilent parlayed its position as the largest supplier of fiber optic transcievers to Cisco Systems Inc. into its first non-HP ASIC design win. The resulting chip, designed into Cisco's Catalyst switch series, is expected to enter production this year, the company said.
"Looking across our customer base, we certainly have a strong position with the leaders in the printer space, the networking space, and the computing space," Stewart said. "In the ASIC business, that's everything."
One thing Agilent can offer that other ASIC companies can't is the expertise that comes from being a unit of a leading supplier of semiconductor test and measurement equipment. According to Stewart, this will allow Agilent to help customers solve problems in areas that go beyond the chip.