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Electronics news digest

20 February 2008 News News Analogue, Mixed Signal, LSI Electronic News Digest

Afric

According to market researcher Frost & Sullivan, the African mobile Internet services market is set to expand due to the continent's lack of sufficient fixed line infrastructure. Reduction in handset costs and Internet service prices, together with improved transmission speeds, will boost demand for mobile Internet throughout the continent. The analysis finds that Africa's demand for mobile Internet access is growing quickly, with operators anticipating growth of between 40 and 50% between 2006 and 2009. The emergence of mobile Internet as a preferred last mile connectivity solution is driving this uptake.

As at 31 December 2007, Vodacom Group recorded 33 million customers across its networks operating in South Africa, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho and Mozambique, reflecting a 4,7% increase in the three months since 30 September 2007. The growth in the customer base is a result of high gross customer connections of 4,8 million for the quarter. The Group's non-South African operations comprised 8,8 million customers, or 26,6% of the total customer base. Year on year, revenue for the nine months ended 31 December 2007 increased by 17,3% to R35,7 billion, while total Group customers increased by 17,1% since 31 December 2006.

Overseas

Business

Lattice Semiconductor has announced that its Board of directors has begun a search for a new chief executive officer and that Steve Skaggs will be resigning effective 31 May 2008 as the company's president and chief executive officer. Skaggs has served as CEO since 2005 and is expected to continue in his current capacity to assist with the executive search until the effective date of his resignation.

Qimonda has announced results for the first quarter of its financial year (FY) 2008, which ended 31 December 2007. Net sales decreased to 513 million Euros, or 28%, from 711 million Euros in the fourth quarter of 2007. Compared to the first quarter of FY 2007, sales declined by 56% from 1,17 billion Euros. EBIT loss was 590 million Euros compared to an EBIT loss of 258 million Euros in the fourth quarter of 2007 and a positive EBIT of 250 million Euros in the first quarter of FY 2007. Net loss was 598 million Euros, or a loss per share of 1,75 Euros, compared to a net loss of 265 million Euros in the fourth quarter of 2007, or a loss per share of 0,77 Euros. In the first quarter of 2007, the company reported a net income of 177 million Euros or earnings per share of 0,52 Euros.

Tyco Electronics reported net sales of $3,6 billion for the fiscal fourth quarter ended 28 September 2007, an increase of 11% over the prior-year period. Excluding currency effects, organic sales growth was 8%. GAAP diluted earnings per share (EPS) from continuing operations was $0,53 for the quarter. Included in EPS from continuing operations were $0,06 per share of net charges related to restructuring, separation and other items. Adjusted diluted EPS from continuing operations was $0,59 in the quarter.

Cree reported revenue of $119 million for its fiscal second quarter ended 30 December 2007. This represents a 5% increase compared to the fiscal first quarter of 2008 and a 34% increase compared to revenue of $88,8 million reported one year ago. GAAP net income for the second quarter was $6,6 million, or $0,08 per diluted share, compared to net income of $16,5 million or $0,21 per diluted share for the second quarter of fiscal 2007.

Fairchild Semiconductor has announced results for the fourth quarter and full year ended 30 December 2007. Fourth quarter sales were $431,9 million, up 1% from the prior quarter and 3% higher than the fourth quarter of 2006. Net income of $34,0 million or $0,27 per diluted share compared to net income of $20,3 million or $0,16 per diluted share in the prior quarter and net income of $8,7 million or $0,07 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2006. Included in these results is a $2,3 million charge related to asset impairments and restructuring actions to streamline the company's cost structure.

Lattice Semiconductor announced fourth quarter revenues of $53,1 million, a decrease of 9% from the $58,3 million reported in the prior quarter, and a decrease of 14% from the $61,8 million reported in the same quarter a year ago. For the year 2007, revenue was $228,7 million, a decrease of 7% from the $245,5 million reported in 2006. Revenue from FPGA products was $52,0 million and increased 6% over 2006, while revenue from PLD products was $176,7 million, a 10% decrease from 2006.

Hynix Semiconductor reported revenues of 1,85 trillion won, which is a 24% decrease from the previous quarter's 2,44 trillion won, and a 29% decrease from 2,61 trillion won in the same period last year. Sequential deterioration in sales was mainly due to the sharp erosion in DRAM and NAND Flash prices, which dropped by 35% and 34% quarter-on-quarter, respectively, despite the partial offset by 7% of DRAM bit growth and 43% of NAND Flash bit growth. Operating loss in the fourth quarter was 318 billion won with operating margin of negative 17%.

Maxim has reported net revenues of $540,0 million for its fiscal 2008 second quarter ending 29 December 2007. This is an 8,6% increase from the $497,5 million recorded in the second quarter of fiscal 2007, and a 3,3% sequential increase over the $522,7 million revenue recorded in the previous quarter. The company simultaneously announced the ramp down and eventual closure of its wafer fab in Dallas, as well as a decision to stop funding R&D for its handset RF transceiver product line. As a result of these restructuring actions, Maxim expects to take a one-time charge of $10 million before asset impairment costs which are as yet undetermined.

Japanese tech conglomerate Sharp Corporation has reported a 5,5% rise in quarterly operating profit to a record high 51,99 billion Yen, as rivals delayed opening new plants, slowing price declines for the big LCD panels it specialises in. That more than offset steep TV price falls for Sharp - the world's third-largest LCD TV maker behind Samsung and Sony - and higher silicon raw material prices that hurt profits at its solar cell unit.

Freescale Semiconductor announced financial results for the fourth quarter and full-year ended 31 December 2007. Net sales for the quarter were $1,54 billion, compared to $1,45 billion in the third quarter of 2007 and $1,62 billion in the fourth quarter of 2006, and net sales for the year totalled $5,72 billion. EBITDA was $411 for the quarter and $1,5 billion for the year. Compared to 2006, sales were down for microcontroller, networking and multimedia, cellular and 'other' product lines, while RF, analog and sensor sales were up slightly.

LSI posted a loss of $2,0 billion, or negative $2,88 per share, for the fourth 2007 quarter and GAAP net loss of $141 million or minus $0,20 per share for the year. Included in this most recent loss was a net charge of $2,1 billion from special items, consisting of $29 million in restructuring costs, $6,0 million for acquired in-process R&D, $38,6 million in the amortisation of acquisition-related items, $21,5 million in stock-based compensation expense and an estimated $2,0 billion non-cash charge for 'impairment of goodwill'.

STMicroelectronics' fourth quarter net revenues increased 6,9% sequentially to $2,74 billion, compared to $2,48 billion a year ago. Operating loss - excluding restructuring and impairment charges of $279 million - was $15 million or $0,02 per diluted share. This compares to operating income of $181 million and net income of $187 million, or $0,20 per diluted share in the previous quarter, and operating income of $173 million and net income of $276 million or $0,30 per diluted share in the same period a year ago.

National Semiconductor is disposing of certain manufacturing equipment and reducing staff at its wafer fabrication facilities as the company continues to take steps to modernise facilities and rationalise its capacity. The company announced that it will eliminate approximately 200 positions and incur a charge of approximately $20 million, of which roughly $12 million is related to severance costs for the eliminated positions, approximately $7 million is related to the impairment and disposal of manufacturing equipment, and about $1 million is related to contractual and other obligations.

Industry

The Serial ATA International Organisation (SATA-IO), the consortium dedicated to sustaining the quality, integrity and dissemination of SATA technology, has announced its Power Over eSATA initiative. SATA-IO has begun work on a new specification that will provide power to external SATA devices without the need for a separate power connection. Led by the organisation's Cable and Connector group, the specification is targeted for completion in the second half of 2008.

According to research by Frost & Sullivan, IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) technology remains an important part of the seamless mobility between mobile telephony and fixed wireless. Industry-wide adoption of IMS is expected to enable service providers to expand their service offerings to a wider range of market segments, while allowing subscribers to experience a level of integration not witnessed in previous networking technologies. The research finds that the world IMS test and monitoring equipment market earned revenues of $274,1 million in 2007 and estimates this to reach $1,2 billion in 2013.

The Ethernet Alliance has announced that the IEEE New Standards Committee has approved a project authorisation request encompassing a 40 Gigabit Ethernet rate for server and storage applications and a 100 Gigabit Ethernet rate for network aggregation. The resulting project, which will now be known as the IEEE P802.3ba task force, will focus on defining the standard for 40 GbE and 100 GbE, and expects to complete standard ratification in 2010.

National Instruments (NI) has joined The Multicore Association, a global non-profit organisation focused on developing standards that help shorten time to market for products that involve multicore implementations. As a member of the association, NI is collaborating with leading technology companies including Intel, Freescale and Wind River to improve the interoperability among operating systems, hardware and software development tools so engineers and scientists can benefit from the performance improvements offered by multicore technology.

The Semiconductor Industry Association has reported that global sales of semiconductors grew for the sixth-consecutive year, reaching a record $255,6 billion in 2007, an increase of 3,2% over the $247,7 billion reported in 2006. Worldwide sales in December were $22,3 billion, an increase of 2,5% compared to the $21,7 billion reported in December 2006. December 2007 sales declined by 3,6% from the previous month when sales were $23,1 billion. Worldwide sales in the fourth quarter of 2007 were $66,8 billion, an increase of 2,5% over fourth-quarter 2006 sales of $65,2 billion.

According to analysis by IMS Research, the global voltage regulation IC market grew by 5% in 2007 to reach over $7 billion. The research predicts that - global economy permitting - growth in 2008 will return to the 10-15% range enjoyed over the past few years. The research also shows that, although the isolated market continued to perform well due to demand for highly efficient controllers for AC-DC power supplies, the non-isolated regulation market weakened in 2007.

Technology

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a process employing a silica-bead polymer whereby they can make complex, miniature waveguides that can manoeuvre optical signals through solid materials. This development overcomes a major obstacle in the quest to develop more efficient optoelectronic devices and even all-optical integrated circuits. The process supersedes previous efforts using conventional lithography, in that it can manipulate photons in three, and not just two, dimensions.

A new shape-memory material, which changes shape in response to a magnetic field but remembers its original shape, has been developed by a researcher at Northwestern University in the US. In the form of a porous foam made from a nickel-manganese-gallium alloy, it has advantages over other shape-memory alloys which are sensitive to temperature instead of magnetic fields. The major advantages are the ability to stimulate the process from a distance and the fact that this alloy has a faster response. Potential applications range from medical to military, and the new process is expected to make the technology more affordable than previous developments.

Polaroid has developed a thermal printer the size of a deck of cards, designed to be portable enough to be used in conjunction with digital cameras and cellphones. The device prints a 5 x 7,5 mm, 300 dpi photo transmitted to it using Bluetooth or PictBridge protocols.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, a company called Angstrom Power demonstrated technology that promises to offer double the life of batteries and with recharge times on the order of 10 minutes. The fuel-cell based power sources have thus far undergone six months of functional testing. The company hopes that this technology will supplant the lithium ion batteries commonly used in today's portable electronic devices.

Lockheed Martin has signed an agreement with a company called EEStor to use EEStor's ultracapacitor-based energy storage system. EEStor claims that its technology is capable of storing 10 times as much energy as lead-acid batteries. The company has not yet demonstrated a working commercial product, which has aroused scepticism, but this agreement lends credence to its claims. Neither company has revealed specific details of the agreement.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a biocompatible contact lens, complete with electronic circuitry and LEDs. Among the myriad of possible applications, the resulting heads-up display (HUD) could potentially be used to display things such as a cellphone display or information about the wearer's health and surroundings. Practical application of the technology is still some way off, as obstacles such as power consumption and heat generation will need to be overcome, in order to make it perfectly safe for users.

A research team based at Stanford University has demonstrated a new chemical process to create graphene, a material which holds great hopes of paving the way for future generations of ultrafast processors. Graphene, which consists of carbon atoms arranged in a one-atom-thick sheet, has already attracted the attention of researchers at IBM, HP, and Intel, but this is said to be the first time that the material's excellent electrical properties have been demonstrated in practice. It is predicted that graphene-based transistors could run at speeds up to a thousand times faster than today's silicon transistors.

Intel and Micron have unveiled a high speed NAND Flash memory technology that can greatly enhance the access and transfer of data in devices that use silicon for storage. The new technology is said to be five times faster than conventional NAND, allowing data to be transferred in a fraction of the time for computing, video, photography and other computing applications. The new high speed NAND can reach speeds up to 200 MBps for reading and 100 MBps for writing data.





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