Electronics News Digest

13 February 2002 News Electronic News Digest

Southern Africa

Siemens has increased its share in Siemens Telecommunications from 51 to 60%. This was done by exercising its call option on 9% of the 21,5% Marconi shareholding acquired in November 2001 by Reunert, in addition to its stake of 27,5%. Reunert now holds the remaining 40%. According to Dr Klaus Döring, Chief Executive of Siemens Southern Africa, this move further demonstrates the company's total commitment to increasing its business interests in the region.

IST Nuclear Power Systems has been appointed as the sole supplier of three key systems by PBMR. Should the project to build a demonstration Pebble Bed Modular Reactor at Koeberg be approved, IST will supply these systems for the demonstrator plant as well as for the first 10 commercially-produced plants. Recently, IST has been responsible for the feasibility-study design and costing of PBMR's three major support systems: fuel handling and storage; reactivity control and shutdown; and the gas systems. The company will supply these systems if the project gets the green light. Last year, IST Group established a specialist subsidiary, IST Nuclear Power Systems, to focus on further involvement in PBMR project. The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor is a small-scale, inherently safe nuclear reactor which is being developed by Eskom and local and international partners for potential application as a power source in South Africa, as well as a viable South African export product.

Zeconi Holdings, renamed FiberCore Africa, is reported to be looking into using the site of the former AECI explosives factory in Somerset West with a view to establishing its proposed optic-fibre plant there. Zeconi previously had planned to establish the plant at the Capricorn Business and Technology Park near Muizenberg, but this fell through following the discovery that the bedrock beneath where the 12 to 15-storey tower used for drawing the fibre would be, was unsuitable.

London-listed iTouch, which was founded in Cape Town, but still does a significant amount of its research and development in SA, has been rated the best UK provider of wireless applications in a recent industry review undertaken by research and consulting firm Mobile Metrix. iTouch was named one of only two leading providers with a UK headquarters and the highest of any UK provider in the industry review of 125 mobile applications and content providers across 24 countries. The 'Saviour of 3G' review, is the first report that includes an analysis of the wireless industry with such a wide range of the mobile application and content providers according to the company. Says report author and CEO of Mobile Metrix, Dr Edward Nugent, 'it is good to see some leading companies in this industry coming through, especially the fact that it is not just Nordic companies dominating the wireless sector'. He said iTouch was rated highly on many aspects of its business, notably its strong media and network operator relationships, its focused strategy and strong fiscal position and management.

Vodacom has chosen SignalSoft and Compaq to enable deployment of the first consumer-focused location-based services in South Africa. SignalSoft, the developer of the Wireless Location Services Software suite, has signed a contract with SignalSoft's partner, Compaq, to deliver location-based services to Vodacom's 6,4 million GSM subscribers. Vodacom says it is the first South African mobile operator to invest in advanced location-based services to be delivered over voice, short message service (SMS), Wireless Internet Gateway (WIG) and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP).

South Africa recently joined 29 other countries to sign an international treaty against 'Cybercrime'. Once ratified, the Council of Europe's 'Convention on Cybercrime' will be an international treaty designed to harmonise laws and penalties for crimes committed via the Internet. It will require all member countries to introduce comprehensive local legislation, together with technical infrastructure, to fight everything from hacking to computer fraud. 'There has been some criticism of the treaty, with concerns voiced about invasion of privacy and/or civil liberty," said Gary Middleton, National Security Business Development Manager at Dimension Data SA. "However, the Council of Europe has stressed that the treaty has been drafted with respect for individual rights. Anything that will curb the predicted dramatic upswing in viruses, hacking and computer fraud in the future is to be welcomed." The treaty, which puts forward definitions, as well as suggested penalties, for certain crimes, first requires ratification by five member states to go into force.

New Zealand-based Holliday Group's electronics and wireless applications development divisions, have been rebranded globally as iTouch Technology Solutions and iTouch Business Mobility respectively. This follows its acquisition by London-listed iTouch plc. The acquisition, which won 'highly commended' for the Deal of the Year category in this year's NZ Hi-Tech awards, added a new and significant dimension to the iTouch global brand according to the company.



Texas Instruments (TI) has announced its fourth-quarter results. Revenue declined 3% sequentially to $1,79 bn, as seasonally lower revenue from educational calculators offset gains from semiconductor, it stated. Semiconductor revenue rose 3% sequentially as expected growth in DSP was augmented by stabilisation in other semiconductor product areas. For 2001, revenue was $8,2 bn, down 31% from the previous year. Semiconductor revenue was $6,78 bn, down 34% from a year ago. TI chairman and CEO Tom Engibous said that while 2001 was a 'tough year', it ended on a much more positive note than it started. He cited TI's shipment of 600-MHz digital signal processors as well as the company's first copper-based products and the ramp of 0,13 micron processes. For fourth quarter 2001, TI's operating loss was $269m, compared with an operating profit of $615m in the year-ago quarter; while net loss was $116m, compared with net income of $665m.

Intersil reported a 7,2% sequential increase in sales to $121,6m in the fourth quarter compared to $113,4m in Q3 of 2001. Intersil's sales were 26,2% lower than $164,8m in Q4 of 2000. The company recorded a net income of $3,5m, including amortisation for intangibles, in the fourth quarter, compared to a net loss of $3,3m in third quarter. Intersil said its wireless access chip sales increased 27% sequentially to $37,7m in Q4 from the prior quarter, and power management revenues were up 14% from the previous quarter. Communications analog product sales increased 8%, to $49,4m, while revenues from other analog products were down 9,2% to $34,6m in Q4 compared to the prior quarter.

Actel reported sequentially flat revenues of $32,1m in the fourth quarter vs. sales in Q3. Compared to a year ago, the chip company's sales were 47% lower than $60,1m in Q4 of 2000. Including charges for acquisition-related costs, Actel posted a net loss of $2,5m in the just-ended quarter. John East, President and CEO of Actel said 'holding revenue flat with the previous quarter was a positive development'. Citing Actel's launch of 'flash-based one-million system gate' FPGAs, he said Actel had made significant progress in new product introductions, positioning it for future growth. For the entire year in 2001, Actel's revenues decreased 36% to $145,6m compared to 2000.

Ixys has reported revenues of $16,1m for the quarter ended December 31, 2001, which is a decrease of 44,9% over the $29,2m in revenues for the same quarter in the prior fiscal year. Sequentially, revenues decreased 22,5% from the $20,7m reported for the prior quarter. Arnold Agbayani, Chief Financial Officer of Ixys said, 'the market continues to be weak and unpredictable but we continue to show operating income'. Gross profit was $5,0m, or 30,8% of net sales, for the December quarter. This compares with a gross profit of $11,2m, or 38,4% of net sales for the same quarter in the prior fiscal year. The decrease in the gross profit reflects a change in the mix of products sold and a 39,9% decrease in overall units sold. 'Our gross margin, although lower than what we would want to see, is relatively stable and we continue to invest in research and new product development,' said Agbayani.

RF Micro Devices financial results for its fiscal 2002 third quarter, ended December 31, 2001 reveal revenues for the quarter were approximately $100,6m, a sequential increase of approximately 2,3%. This compares to revenues of $98,3m for the prior quarter, and an increase of approximately 25,8% versus revenues of $79,9m for the corresponding quarter of fiscal 2001. During the corresponding quarter of fiscal 2001, gross profit margin was 47,0%. Gross profit for the quarter increased 6,9% sequentially to $38,9m, versus $36,4m for the quarter ended September 30, 2001, and increased 3,6%, versus $37,5m for the corresponding quarter of fiscal 2001.

ARM Holdings has reported a 7% sequential increase in revenues to £40,2m in the fourth quarter compared to £37,6m in quarter three. Revenues were 35% higher than £29,8m in the fourth quarter of 2000, it said. The company's profit before taxes was £13,8m vs £10,1m in the same period a year ago. ARM's net income for Q4 was £9,2m compared to £8,8m in Q4 of 2000.

Silicon Laboratories has reported its fourth quarter and full year results for the period ended 29 December, 2001. The company announced its third sequential increase in revenues and its return to profitability. Fourth quarter revenues rose sequentially 19% to $23,6m from $19,9m in the third quarter. R&D expense increased to $7,7m from $6,1m in the fourth quarter of 2000, reflecting Si-Labs' strong focus on new product efforts. Revenues for the full year 2001 decreased to $74,1m from $103,1m reported at the end of 2000. Adjusted net loss was $1,2m for 2001, compared to adjusted net income of $21,5m for fiscal year 2000. For the company's fourth quarter, revenues from newer areas including wireless, optical, embedded modem and subscriber line interface products increased significantly and now account for 64% of the company's total revenues.


Philips Semiconductors and Mitsumi Electric of Japan have announced plans to jointly develop, manufacture and market analog and mixed-signal ICs worldwide. This expands on their previous manufacturing and resale agreement. Under the new agreement, Philips and Mitsumi will cross-sell existing product lines from each other.

ITT has delivered the first Advanced Digital Radio Plus (ADR+) developmental models as part of Britain's Bowman radio program, to General Dynamics UK. General Dynamics is the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) prime contractor for the £1,8 bn Bowman Program to provide secure voice and data communications within a 'Tactical Internet System' to the British armed forces. These first ADRs will undergo rigorous integration testing at General Dynamics UK's test facility in Calgary, Canada, to determine how well they will work during complex voice and data network operations.

Silicon Storage Technology (SST) has announced it has licensed flash technology to NEC for embedded nonvolatile memory use in microcontrollers and other ICs, fabricated with 0,35 µm processes. Under the agreement, SST will receive licensing fees and royalties from NEC, which plans to introduce its first products using SST's SuperFlash technology in fourth quarter of 2002. Terms of the licensing and royalty pact were not released. NEC opted to use SST's SuperFlash as embedded memory in IC designs because of its scalability, low power, and ease of integration with logic functions, said Uichi Kawakami, General Manager of NEC's microcomputer division. The SuperFlash technology is a NOR-type, split-gate cell memory structure, which uses a thick-oxide process with fewer steps than other designs.

Matsushita Electric Industrial has announced plans to transfer its liquid crystal display (LCD) business to a new joint venture with Toshiba, effective 1 April. The new company will be called Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology.

Amkor Technology has announced an agreement to acquire the semiconductor assembly business of Citizen Watch in Japan to expand its presence in the country's backend chip manufacturing and packaging markets. This follows the creation of a joint-venture chip-assembly company called Amkor Iwate in early 2001. Under the agreement, Amkor will acquire the assembly operations and Citizen's IC packaging IP portfolio.

Cypress Semiconductor and Ramtron plan to expand their cooperative R&D efforts in one-transistor SRAM technology to offer a broader line of network-communications memory products.


Gartner Dataquest reported that sales of personal computers were hit by last year's global economic slowdown, showing their first yearly decline since 1985. Worldwide PC shipments totalled 128-million units in 2001 a 4,6% decline from the previous year, said the analyst firm. Dell was the only major manufacturer to exhibit sales growth, with its worldwide shipments up 18,3% as it moved past Compaq to become the leading vendor. Dataquest expects worldwide PC shipments to decline 4% in the first quarter of this year, but to finish the year with a growth rate of 4%.

With global carrier capital expenditures forecast to decline by an additional 23% in 2002 after falling 21% in 2001, the latest projections from iSuppli indicates that semiconductor suppliers to the wired networking market will face tough times for several years to come iSuppli does not see a significant up-tick after 2002, as it says its research did not uncover any 'high-flying segments' for suppliers' concentration. From 2003 to 2005 carrier-driven semiconductor revenues will grow globally at 4% per year while developing countries, primarily Asia, will grow at 6% rate, it believes. To survive this precipitous slide, suppliers tied to wire-line carriers will have to fine tune their marketing focus and develop strong partnerships and alliances with carriers in Asian markets and developing countries.

Despite efforts to develop new sources of automotive power, advanced forms of fossil-fuelled spark ignition and diesel engines will continue to dominate the market through 2020, according to a new joint study by technology consulting firm Arthur D. Little and consultants at DRI•WEFA. Their study developed three plausible scenarios of emissions regulations, fuel efficiency or carbon dioxide requirements, crude oil price and economic outlook. For each scenario, the mix of powertrain (engine, transmission, and fuel system) technologies in each geographic region was forecast. The group identified and assessed the technical barriers to the commercialisation of advanced spark ignition, diesel engines, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles as well as the various forms of advanced transmissions and exhaust cleanup. Despite the continued trend to use traditional fuel sources, the study foresees greatly improved engine, transmission and fuel system technologies compared with what is now on the market. Improvements will include 'mechatronics' - the integration of electronic controls with engine function - the use of advanced lubricants, and improved manufacturing techniques and materials, resulting in substantial improvements in emissions and fuel efficiency.

Despite slower-than-expected wireless handset shipments in the past year, the number of cellular phone subscribers worldwide is expected to more than double to 1,9 bn by the end of 2006, states Strategy Analytics' new report. At the end of 2001, cell-phone networks worldwide had 900 subscribers, and by the end of 2006, the penetration of cellular phones in markets worldwide will double from 15% at the end of last year to 30% by the end of 2006, predicts the report. The report says global markets supporting GSM, CDMA, TDMA, PDC and a variety of analog cellphone standards will consolidate around GSM/W-CDMA and CDMAOne/CDMA2000 systems. Strategy Analytics believes that the GSM/W-CDMA camp will continue dominate the cellular landscape, accounting for 76% of worldwide users in 2006, while almost two-thirds of 3G phones in use in 2006 will be CDMA2000 devices.

Motorola plans to cut semiconductor capital spending by 67% to only $200m in 2002 compared to $610m last year, which was substantially below $2,4 bn spent in 2000. During a conference call with financial analysts, Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector revealed that it expects to further reduce expenses and reach a moderate operating profit in the fourth quarter of 2002. Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector posted an operating loss of $335m in its fourth quarter on a 4% sequential increase in revenues to $1,12 bn.

Matsushita Electric Industrial of Japan has announced it has filed a patent infringement suit against Korea's Samsung Electronics and three of its US affiliates over DRAM technology. The parties are: Samsung Electronics of Kyonggi, Korea, Samsung Electronics America of Ridgefield Park, N.J., Samsung Semiconductor of San Jose, and Samsung Austin Semiconductor of Austin. The three patents involved relate to: 'semiconductor memory apparatus with reduced line width', 'semiconductor device with dual drivers to sense AMP array' and 'redundancy semiconductor memory device which utilises spare memory cells from a plurality of different memory blocks, and utilises the same decode lines for both the primary and the spare memory cells'.


Chemists at the University of California, San Diego, had a silicon chip blow up in their faces after scratching a porous silicon wafer that had been impregnated with gadolinium nitrate. This silicon form of 'gunpowder' could pave the way for integrating nanoscale explosives onto silicon chips, which, according to the researchers, could provide microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) with a means for rocket propulsion, or create self-destruct mechanisms for 'security-sensitive' chips, eg making a stolen cellphone inoperable.

Bell Labs' physicists Hendrik Schön and Shenan Bao have reported that they have developed a FET combining both insulator and semiconductor layers within a single organic molecule. This follows work last year on the development of a single-molecule transistor. According to Schön, 'the combination of insulating and semiconducting parts could lead to true single-molecule transistors. We need now to develop a more complex molecular design and connect them to some kind of contact.' A technical report appeared in 14 January 2002 issue of Applied Physics Letters.

Motorola has announced its fastest PowerPC processor yet, the MPC7455, which is fabricated with silicon-on-insulator technology and operating at 1 GHz speeds. the MPC7445A is its slower, lower-power version that reaches speeds up to 800 MHz. The processors are targeted at networking and computing applications. The 1,6 V (core) MPC7455 PowerPC is housed in a 484-pin CBGA package, and integrates a 256 KB on-chip L2 cache with support of up to 2 MB backside L3 cache.

Intersil plans to sample a two-piece wireless-LAN chipset compliant with the IEEE- 802.11g draft standard. This will be the first chip set out that meets the standard, approved in November, according to the company. The Prism GT chipset will support data rates up to 54 Mbps in the 2,45 GHz band while maintaining backward compatibility with the installed base of more than 15 million 802.11b (Wi-Fi) radios. Prism GT incorporates the 802.11g mandatory modulation schemes - complementary code keying (CCK), which is used in 802.11b, and orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), used in 802.11a. Intersil says the WLAN solution will enable a next-generation of high-data-rate platforms for operation in the 2,4 GHz band that deliver a five-fold speed increase, a 30% range advantage, and lower power consumption compared to 5 GHz systems.

Toshiba has announced the development of a new CMOS image sensor chip claimed to match the performance and quality of charge-coupled devices (CCDs). The device has an improved circuit design which incorporates a new photodiode with twice the sensitivity to low-light conditions. According to Toshiba, an optimised analog-to-digital converter and new pixel design result in less noise and contribute to improved image quality. The performance matches CCDs with a similar pixel count at minimum light levels - as low as three lux. 'Dark signal voltage' is 0,5 mV.

Samsung Semiconductor, the US subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, has announced it has begun sampling 1066 and 1200 MHz Rambus DRAMs, claimed to be the fastest speed grades yet. In addition to the fast RDRAM devices, Samsung is providing customers with samples of Rambus in-line memory modules (RIMMs) containing the next-generation parts.

'Yamhill' is reportedly the name of a new 32/64 bit microprocessor technology that Intel developing to compete against the AMD's upcoming 'Hammer' 64 bit family.

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