IBM Microelectronics has finally become a clone chipmaker after years of hesitation, and is taking on, not Intel, but Texas Instruments, in the booming cellphone market.
IBM will spend more than $100 million adding about 25 custom chips, mainly digital signal processors (DSPs) to its range, the first of these aimed at cellphones. These will take aim at TI's C54X family, which has a dominant position in the cellular sector.
Texas, whose recent restructuring has sharply focused the company on DSPs, now has 45 per cent of the world market for these chips, which are used in embedded applications and particularly in communications devices. Lucent is a distant second and IBM well behind in this sector, which is being driven by the growth in Internet appliances and mobile comms.
IBM's cellphone chip will provide "full compatibility" with the TI TMS320C54X DSP - the first time the giant has produced a clone chip, although it does manufacture Cyrix' Intel lookalike processors.
Although some speculated TI may take legal action, analysts say Big Blue is highly sensitive about making sure its products are street legal, so the new core is probably lawyer-proof.
IBM Micro estimates the custom chip market to be worth $21 billion, growing to $52 billion by 2002, with DSPs accounting for a large share of this.
"IBM's custom chip business grew by more than 70 per cent in 1997, based largely on our ability to handle complex designs," said Mike Attardo, general manager of tIBM Microelectronics. "With the drive to integrate more components on a single chip, however, complex designs are becoming the norm. The investments we're announcing today will make that expertise and technology available to more customers in a wider variety of applications."
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