KANATA, Ontario--Nearly two years after acquiring GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Mitel Corp. here has harnessed its general-purpose-ASIC prowess and is mounting a fresh assault on the communications-chip market.
Though Mitel's semiconductor division dropped virtually out of sight while it assimilated a string of acquisitions, it continued to build GPS' ASIC muscle, and now boasts a 0.18-micron methodology and IP library that will support a system-level-integration push in the WAN, gateway, and wireless arenas.
GEC Plessey Semiconductors "was larger than Mitel Semiconductor itself, in both employees and revenue," said Francois Cordeau, senior vice president and general manager of the $400 million chip division, based in Kanata, Ontario. "That took a lot of time to get through."
In addition to ASIC flows, GPS brought expertise in RF and high-frequency circuits, which will bolster a parallel standard-product thrust, according to the company.
In the communications SLI arena, Mitel will offer both gate-array and standard-cell platforms, drawing largely from an internally developed library of reusable IP offered as hard macros.
But under a new business model, the company will outsource its ASIC manufacturing to foundries, including LSI Logic, Thesys, TSMC, and UMC, maintaining only specialty processes in-house, such as bipolar RF, low-voltage CMOS, high-voltage CMOS, gallium arsenide, and indium phosphide.
Mitel is eyeing a $3.5 billion communications system-level integration market that is projected to surpass $8 billion by 2003, according to Dataquest in San Jose.
"Our goal is to be a leader [in communications system-level integration]," said Peter Burke, vice president of product marketing and business development at Mitel Semiconductor. "We're now at $80 million. We have to get that up into the several $100 million area."
GPS' ASIC portfolio had been distinguished in the market by fast turnaround and low cost, but was seen by some as too generic to offer a competitive advantage. Under Mitel, the ASIC focus has shifted from a broad-based ASIC approach to communications-specific gate-array and standard-cell platforms. The company will offer reusable IP based on Mitel's standard products-including framers, ATM interfaces, HDLCs, and switches-served up as hard macros within its System Builder portfolio.
"You can buy framers out there, but they're synthesizable, so you've got to worry about amalgamation," Burke said. "Our ASIC line today is 65% communications. We're strengthening that portion of the business by putting in our framers and switches."
The System Builder portfolio also includes ARM CPUs, microcontrollers, and USB and PCI interfaces. On the standard-product front, Mitel focuses on LAN/WAN, network-access, optical, telephony, and wireless. The company's particular strength has been in voice-oriented chips for central-office applications, but the hope is to go beyond its traditional roots by moving into the exploding voice and data markets, according to Burke.
Having been in the ATM-chip, optical-component, and other LAN/WAN businesses for some time, the company plans to make a big splash in the Internet-telephony chip markets starting next year.
Mitel hopes to field two products-voice-over-IP phone chips and Internet-enabled PBX devices. The IP-based phone chips, to be rolled out in the second quarter of 2000, will be based on a 32-bit RISC core from ARM Ltd., Burke said.
The company also plans a sneak attack against several competitors in the network-access market, including PMC-Sierra Inc., another Canadian LAN/WAN-chip company. Along these lines, Mitel is sampling an eight-channel device for use in E1/T1/J1 applications, he said.
Mitel also competes against PMC-Sierra in the ATM-based physical-layer-IC arena. But unlike its rival, Mitel has no intention of entering the ATM-switch chip business, Burke added. Nor does it intend to give up its core voice-only chip markets, where it is a major supplier of SLICs, codecs, and other devices.
"TDM [time-division multiplexing] won't go away soon," Burke said. "TDM is fundamental in many applications."