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Electronics news digest

18 May 2005 News Electronic News Digest

Southern Africa

The minority shareholders in Grintek have accepted a buyout offer from the company's partner and shareholder, SAAB, opening the way for the defence and telecommunications manufacturer to become a privately-held partnership between Kunene Bros Holdings and SAAB South Africa. According to the companies, SAAB's purchase of all shares currently held by minority stakeholders will bring direct foreign investment to South Africa of more than R344m, taking SAAB's direct investment in South Africa in the past 18 months to over R430m. Following completion, SAAB will own 70,3% and Kunene 29,7% of Grintek. Grintek is also delisting from the JSE Securities Exchange.

Mobile phones may have been the fastest growing technology ever seen in South Africa, yet more than 10 years after the cellular revolution began, full mobile commerce has not touched the lives of most cellular phone users. This is according to a new study from World Wide Worx, which reveals that while specific industry sectors have taken to it in huge volumes - to the tune of more than R2-billion in 2004 - consumer mobile commerce as a mature industry is still three to five years away. While consumers have not yet moved beyond paying for additional airtime and ring tones and logos with phone airtime, businesses have been using mobile technology for logistics and inventory management for more than a decade, but this has not relied on the cellular phone. More information about the report is posted at www.mobileza.com

Toyota has awarded its Supplier of the Year Award for 2004 to Control Instruments' subsidiary, CI Shurlok. Toyota's review of 150 selected suppliers looked at quality, cost, delivery, raw materials, service, production consumables, and environmental awareness. Shurlok was nominated in the 'cost' and 'delivery' categories, winning the 'delivery' category. The Supplier of the Year was chosen from the category winners, with Control Instruments Shurlok coming out with overall best performance of the 150 suppliers.

AlanDick & Co. South Africa recently commissioned a high power point to multipoint frequency-shifter repeater system in the Sabie Game Reserve on the border of the Kruger National Park for a local cellphone operator and an animal-tracking device manufacturer. Deploying high power frequency-shifting repeaters in a multipoint configuration replicates the capacity from existing BTS sites at repeater stations in the area, said the company, which obviates the need for installing additional BTS systems.

Schroff has appointed Actum Electronics as its exclusive representative for South Africa. Schroff, part of the Pentair Enclosures Group, is a leading manufacturer of protection and packaging solutions for the electronics sector. See '<a href="http://dataweek.co.za/News.ASP?pklNewsID=17513&pklIssueID=485&pklIssueTypeID=5&LIU=15"" target="_blank">Actum appointed as Schroff distributor</a>'.

NuVision Electronics has been appointed as the official South African distributor for IAR Systems. IAR Systems is a leading supplier of development tools and services for embedded systems.

Cell C, Microsoft, MTN and Vodacom are among the latest top brands operating in South Africa to achieve the so-called 'Superbrand' status. Independent Superbrands Councils in more than 40 countries grade each country's premier brands according to strict criteria. The four companies will appear in the Superbrands large-format publication that will feature around 100 leading brands.

Overseas

Business

Avnet reported revenue of $2,76 bn for Q3 of 2005, representing an increase of 4% over the same quarter of 2004 and a decrease of 4% sequentially. Net income for the quarter was $41,1m, as compared with prior year net income of $26,7m, which included certain charges. Operating income for Q3 2005 was $78,5m, an improvement of 6% compared with that of the year ago quarter. Operating income as a percent of sales increased slightly from last year to 2,85% in the current year quarter. This represents the eleventh consecutive quarter of year-over-year improvement in operating income and margin, excluding certain charges, said Avnet.

STMicroelectronics reported an operating loss of $68m, and a net loss of $31m, on sales of $2,1 bn, for the 2005 first quarter, compared to net profit of $77m, on sales of $2 bn in the year-ago quarter. ST's results were adversely affected by restructuring costs of $78m.

Infineon Technologies reported a net loss in the second quarter of 114m euro, down from net income of 142m euro sequentially. Q2 earnings decreased to negative 117m euro from positive 211m euro in the prior quarter. Q2 revenues were 1,61 bn euro, down 12% sequentially. Total revenues for the first half of financial year 2005 were 3,42 bn euro, up 4% from 3,29 bn euro in the same period last year. Net income for the 2005 first half amounted to 28m euro, compared to 73m euro in the prior year. "In this difficult environment, we concentrated our efforts on optimising our business setup, and have already achieved several milestones," said Wolfgang Ziebart, Infineon CEOr. Infineon said it will continue to focus on restructuring non-profitable businesses.

International Rectifier reported earnings of $41,7m on revenues of $281,9m for the quarter. This was down slightly from $298,6m in revenues and $44,8m in earnings, reported for the prior quarter, but a gain over the $275,4m in revenues and $29,8m in earnings for the year-ago quarter.

RF Micro Devices reported fourth quarter 2005 revenue of $150,4m, down 11% from the previous quarter and 8% from that same period of 2004. RF Micro turned in gross profit for the quarter of $45m, down 26% from the 2004 quarter and down 23% from the previous quarter. On a GAAP basis, however, the company posted a net loss of $62,2m, for the quarter, which includes accounting charges of nearly $46m relating to its discontinuation of WLAN chipset development efforts.

Companies

Electronics distributor Avnet is acquiring competitor Memec Group in a stock and cash deal valued at about $676m. It will also assume about $194m of Memec's net debt as part of the deal. Memec is a global semiconductor distributor that operates in 33 countries. See '<a href="http://dataweek.co.za/Article.ASP?pklArticleID=3477&pklIssueID=485&pklIssueTypeID=5&LIU=15"" target="_blank">Avnet buying Memec</a>'.

System-on-chip IC provider, Pixelworks has agreed to acquire Equator Technologies, a fabless provider of programmable digital video and audio encoding and decoding products for $109m.

Aeroflex, a manufacturer of automated testing solutions and microelectronics for the aerospace and defence communications markets, has acquired the business of JcAIR Test Systems from Goodrich, for $35m in cash. JcAIR provides customised avionics test solutions.

Xcel, the UK subsidiary of Emrise, has finalised an agreement to acquire Pascall Electronics from Intelek for £3,1m. The combined businesses will represent one of the largest custom power supply businesses in the UK, according to Pascall Electronics.

Thermal analysis company, Flomerics, has acquired MicReD, an Hungarian-based company formed in 1997 as a spinoff from Budapest University of Technology and Economics. MicReD's main product is the T3Ster, which provides thermal characterisation of IC devices, including stacked-die and system-in-package devices.

Royal Philips Electronics has reorganised its semiconductor division into four business units: Automotive and Identification; Mobile and Personal; Home; and Multi-Market semiconductors. Philips said the goal is to become 'a more agile and market-focused organisation that has a sustained, solid contribution to value creation.'

Subject to stockholder approval, Duraswitch is to change its corporate name to InPlay Technologies. The new name 'is consistent with our goal of growing our company by putting technologies into play' said the company. The Duraswitch brand will continue to be associated with the company's patented electronic switch technologies.

Assa Abloy Identification Technology Group (ITG), a manufacturer and supplier of identification components, has acquired the rights to all of the patents filed by David Finn before 12 March, 2002. This includes a large number of radio frequency identification (RFID) transponder technology patents. The most important patents regard the embedding of insulated electrical wire into synthetic materials, which has significant implications for the manufacturing of RFID transponders and contactless cards, said ITG.

Texas Instruments has announced it is working with Microsoft on future versions of the Windows Mobile-based Portable Media Center Software Kit, enabling manufacturers to develop portable media centres with TI hardware.

Freescale and Royal Philips Electronics, both founding members of the FlexRay consortium, have agreed to work together in an effort to speed up the adoption of FlexRay products. The two companies will develop semiconductor-based products as part of a drive to offer FlexRay developers full-fledged solutions, from network simulation tools to silicon products, that comply with FlexRay version 2.1. The companies will now combine their in-vehicle networking expertise and use a common FlexRay protocol engine design and a common System C-based reference software model to ensure interoperability of their FlexRay devices.

The ZigBee Alliance, an association of companies working together to enable wirelessly networked monitoring and control products based on an open global standard, has announced 20 new member companies, bringing its total membership to more than 150 companies. It also announced that Chipcon has been admitted as a 'Promoter' level member.

Industry

The three-month average of worldwide sales of semiconductors was $18,43 bn in March 2005, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, up 2,2% from the February level of $18,04 bn and up 13,2% from the same period in 2004.

The worldwide IC industry is projected to show relatively flat growth in the second and third quarters despite an uptick in the first period of this year, reports Advanced Forecasting. Still, there is some uncertainty in the market. "Our quantitative-based forecast for the IC cycle indicated that the second quarter will be generally flat with a slight increase in growth expected for the third quarter," said Rosa Luis, for Advanced Forecasting. "This growth will not be long lasting."

Market research company IDC, says that the consumer semiconductor market is set to more than double between 2004 and 2009, expanding from just over $14 bn to almost $30 bn.

The recovery of the NOR flash memory market from the current period of declining revenues will see the market achieve record-breaking revenues approaching $11 bn in 2006, according to Semico Research. However in 2005, the NOR flash market will contract by 7% compared with 2004. NOR is used in PCs and PC peripherals, consumer electronics devices, automotive and telecom applications.

Intel faced several product and production miscues in 2004, but strong swings in demand and leading technology led the semiconductor giant to a record year, reports In-Stat. Revenue growth was driven by strong sales in mobile processors, chipsets, and flash memory sales. Intel posted a record $7,5 bn in net income on a record $434 bn in revenue in 2004, while its communications group posted a 28% increase in revenues, but continued to lose money in 2004. Intel's strengths remain in its manufacturing technology and capacity, market position, and resources, said the high-tech research firm. Despite its success however, Intel faces stiffer competition from AMD with 64-bit computing, and in the communications market, where Intel continues to have limited success and lags the current industry leaders.

STMicroelectronics has announced plans to 're-deploy' some 1000 engineers amid a loss and sluggish sales for the first quarter of 2005. The company also announced other cost-cutting measures, including a plan to migrate a portion of memory-wafer output to Asia. "We believe our product objectives can be accomplished through better focus and by selectively reallocating research and development resources to higher priority product categories," said Carlo Bozotti, chief executive of ST. "Therefore, in order to accelerate our R&D programs, we are redeploying approximately 1000 engineers, representing 10% of ST's R&D workforce, from non-core programs, including FPGA and third-party design services, and from CPE modem and GSM chipset activities."

In a bid to cut costs, computer giant IBM has announced plans to implement a restructuring plan, including voluntary and involuntary workforce reductions of between 10 000 and 13 000 employees worldwide. For this, IBM estimates that it will record a pre-tax charge of between $1,3 bn to $1,7 bn in the second quarter. The majority of the workforce reductions are planned for Europe, it said. Looking to shift resources to higher-growth markets and opportunities IBM said the restructuring is "designed to improve the company's efficiencies, strengthen its client-facing operations and capture opportunities in high-growth markets."

After being a closely guarded secret for five years, IBM's Cell processor has finally been unveiled, and the chip is expected to have a major impact on the video game market, according to market researcher, In-Stat. The goal of Cell developers was to create a new architecture that could process the next generation of broadband media and graphics with greater efficiency than the traditional approaches of ultradeep pipelines and the ganging of numerous complex and power-inefficient, out-of-order RISC or CISC cores, it said. The chip will be a major part of Sony's Next Generation Game Console, and may have other applications, but is unlikely to encroach dramatically on Intel's territory. Some have called Cell an Intel killer, 'which is completely ridiculous,' said In-Stat. The only place where the Cell processor can be considered competition for Intel will be where the Sony Next Generation Game Console competes with the Media Center PC, it believes.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has announced it will work with the developers of ultra-wideband technology to combine strengths of both wireless technologies. The agreement will allow Bluetooth technology to extend its long-term roadmap to meet the high-speed demands of synchronising and transferring large amounts of data as well as enabling high quality video applications for portable devices. While details are still being worked out, the goal is to work towards an architecture that allows devices to take advantage of UWB data rates for scenarios that require high speed. Bluetooth will still be important to maintain backward compatibility with existing devices on the market and future products not requiring the higher data rate.

According to a recent Gartner study, the growing popularity of always-on e-mail is reflected by the fact that Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices have jumped into the lead as the best-selling PDA worldwide. The BlackBerry now commands 20,8% of the worldwide PDA market compared to 14,8% of the market a year ago.

Fujitsu said it will pay Cirrus Logic $25m to settle all claims between Cirrus Logic, Fujitsu, Amkor Technology and Sumitomo Bakelite over alleged IC failures.

ABI Research has announced a unique online RFID industry research tool. The entirely searchable database (www.abiresearch.com/products/database/RFID_Industry_Database) details RFID company backgrounds, product and service offerings, regional capabilities, relevant partnerships, customer wins, and the companies' positions relative to competitors, applications and vertical markets.

PCB specialist Trackwise has won a Queen's Award for 'Enterprise: International Trade' for increasing the exports of its boards from £500 000 to over £2m in just three years. The UK company, formed in 1989, specialises in the manufacture of antennas using printed circuit technology and exports to antenna manufacturers around the world, including the US, Australia, Europe and Thailand, with China recently joining the customer portfolio.

Electronics solder manufacturer, Cobar is now officially an ISO/TS 16949:2002 company.

Technology

Atmel has announced a new service to convert existing space FPGA-based designs into cost-effective radiation-hardened ASICs with shortened lead-times. According to Atmel, the service offers up to 80% saving on costs and 70% savings in power consumption. Offering a pin-to-pin replacement for existing space FPGAs, the ASICs feature up to 70K usable ASIC gates and a total dose capability of up to 300 Krads.

ST Microelectronics has confirmed it will cease development of its generalised open source programmable logic (GOSPL) technology, an open-source FPGA hardware and software project.

EnOcean, a Siemens spin-off company, develops wireless sensors and switches that operate without batteries or external power sources. The self-powered modules convert process energy from light, pressure, vibration, or temperature differential into useable electrical energy. An 'EnOcean-enabled' lighting system is comprised of battery-less wireless switches and dimmers, and receivers that are integrated into lights or controllers.

The switches are unique in combining two advanced technologies: first, they scavenge minute amounts of energy when a light switch is pressed, then, that energy is used to rapidly transmit high power RF signals (up to 10 mW power output) to wirelessly control lighting. EnOcean-enabled switches are designed to last just as long as a traditional wired switch, but require no maintenance and no wiring - not even a box in the wall behind the switch, as it has a profile as flat as a cover plate.

On 19 April, 1965, Electronics Magazine published a paper by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, in which he made a prediction about the semiconductor industry that has become the stuff of legend. Known as Moore's Law, his prediction has enabled widespread proliferation of technology worldwide, and today has become shorthand for rapid technological change. This year, Intel is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Moore's Law.

The picture above is Moore's original graphic sketch that reveals his prediction about the pace of silicon technology.





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