It is starting to look like chip makers are having cold feet about moving to the next technology for chipmaking. Fabricating chips on larger silicon wafers is the latest cycle in a transition, but according to the Wall Street Journal chipmakers are mothballing their plans.
Companies have to make massive upfront outlays for plants and equipment and they are refusing, because the latest change could boost the cost of a single high-volume factory to as much as $10 billion from around $4 billion. Some companies have been reining in their investments, raising fears the equipment needed to produce the new chips might be delayed for a year or more.
ASML, a maker of key machines used to define features on chips, recently said it had “paused” development of gear designed to work with the larger wafers. Intel said it has slowed some payments to the Netherlands-based company under a deal to help develop the technology.
Gary Dickerson, chief executive of Applied Materials said that the move to larger wafers “has definitely been pushed out from a timing standpoint”
As in-vehicle electronics become more sophisticated to support autonomous driving, cameras, and infotainment systems, Ethernet has become a top contender for connecting them.
For example, the BMW X5 automobile, released last year, used single-pair twisted wire, 100Mbps Ethernet to connect its driver-assistance cameras.
Paris-based Parrot, which supplies mobile accessories to automakers BMW, Hyundai and others, has developed in-car Ethernet. Its first Ethernet-connected systems could hit the market as soon as 2015, says Eric Riyahi, executive vice president of global operations.
Parrot’s new Ethernet-based Audio Video Bridging (AVB) technology uses Broadcom’s BroadR-Reach automotive Ethernet controller chips.
The AVB technology’s network management capabilities allows automakers to control the timing of data streams between specific network nodes in a vehicle and controls the bandwidth in order to manage competing data traffic.
Ethernet’s greater bandwidth could provide drivers with turn-by-turn navigation while a front-seat passenger streams music from the Internet, and each back-seat passenger watches streaming videos on separate displays.
“In-car Ethernet is seen as a very promising way to provide the needed bandwidth for coming new applications within the fields of connectivity, infotainment and safety,” said Hans Alminger, senior manager for Diagnostics & ECU Platform at Volvo, in a statement.
Ethernet was initially used by automakers only for on-board diagnostics. But as automotive electronics advanced, the technology has found a place in advanced driver assistance systems and infotainment platforms.
Many manufacturers also use Ethernet to connect rear vision cameras to a car’s infotainment or safety system, said Patrick Popp, chief technology officer of Automotive at TE Connectivity, a maker of car antennas and other automobile communications parts.
Currently, however, there are as many as nine proprietary auto networking specifications, including LIN, CAN/CAN-FD, MOST and FlexRay. FlexRay, for example, has a 10Mbps transmission rate. Ethernet could increase that 10 fold or more.
The effort to create a single vehicle Ethernet standard is being lead by Open Alliance and the IEEE 802.3 working group. The groups are working to establish 100Mbps and 1Gbps Ethernet as de facto standards.
The first automotive Ethernet standard draft is expected this year.
The Open Alliance claims more than 200 members, including General Motors, Ford, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen. Jaguar Land Rover, Renault, Volvo, Bosch, Freescale and Harman.
Broadcom, which makes electronic control unit chips for automobiles, is a member of the Open Alliance and is working on the effort to standardize automotive Ethernet.
Tokyo-based investment fund Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) will operate the Vaio PC brand under a newly established firm and initially sell PCs in Japan only.
In another reform aimed at bolstering its restructuring efforts, Sony also said it would turn its beleaguered TV business into a subsidiary.
The moves come as Sony said it now expects a net loss of $1.1 billion for the year to the end of March, a reversal of its October profit forecast.
Vaio, which Sony introduced in 1996, looks set to vanish from most markets, at least for short term, as the new company will initially concentrate on selling consumer and corporate PCs in Japan. Whether or not Sony will continue to produce products under the Vaio brand remains to be seen, Sony said.
Although Sony is selling its PC business, it will continue to produce tablet computers, part of its renewed focus on mobile devices including smartphones.
Sony did not put a price on the sale. Sony will take a 5% stake in the new firm, it said.
Sony will stop making and selling PCs after its 2014 Spring lineup launch, but about 250 to 300 Sony staff, including some from a subsidiary that produces TV sets, cameras and computers at factories in Japan, will be hired by the new company, which is to be based at the hub of Sony’s current PC business in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture.
Meanwhile, Sony said it will turn its TV business, which has faced a decade of losses, into a wholly owned subsidiary by July 2014.
Japan’s Sony Corp has changed its mind and decided not to sell its lithium-ion battery unit. Instead Sony has decided to take a chance at turning the business around with a weak yen and growing demand for smart phone batteries.
In addition to a weak yen, which can boost overseas earnings, the battery unit is also seeing increased demand for some of its new products, the Nikkei business daily reported.
For the past two years Sony had been planning to offload the unit, which was a pioneer in making lithium-ion batteries for computers and mobile devices but has struggled recently against cheaper South Korean rivals.
A government turnaround fund tried to broker a sale of the battery business to a Nissan Motor Co Ltd and NEC Corp joint venture earlier this year.
However, talks have stalled and Sony has now told the turnaround fund that it will hold on to the battery unit and develop it as a core business, the Nikkei reported, citing unidentified sources.
Sony, which last year sold its chemical business to the government turnaround fund, is trying to revive the fortunes of its consumer electronics business by focusing on cameras,gaming and mobile devices.
Speaking at a keynote presentation given at the Canberra Press Club 2013, Kaspersky CEO Eugene Kaspersky said a staffer at the unnamed nuclear plant informed him of the infection.
“[The staffer said] their nuclear plant network which was disconnected from the internet was badly infected by Stuxnet,” Kaspersky said.
“So unfortunately these people who were responsible for offensive technologies, they recognise cyber weapons as an opportunity.”
Stuxnet was discovered to have spread throughout industrial software and equipment in 2010 and is believed to have been created by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. According to Kaspersky’s source, the malware was carried into the Russian nuclear plant and installed on a physically separated “air-gapped” network.
Kaspersky also made a rather outlandish joke during his speech, saying that all data is subject to theft. “All the data is stolen,” Kaspersky said. “At least twice.”
“If the claim of the Russian nuclear plant infection is true, then it’s easy to imagine how this “collateral damage” could have turned into a very serious incident indeed, with obvious diplomatic repercussions,” said security expert Graham Cluley.
“There is no way to independently verify the claim, of course. But it is a fact that Stuxnet managed to infect many computer systems outside of its intended target in Iran,” Cluley added. “Indeed, the very fact that it spread out of control, was what lead to its discovery by security firms.”
Earlier this year, Symantec claimed that the Stuxnet computer worm could date back further than 2010 and was more widespread than originally believed.
Symantec’s report called “The Missing Link” found a build of the Stuxnet attack tool, dubbed Stuxnet 0.5, which it said dated back to 2005 and used different techniques to sabotage industrial facilities.
Chip makers including Broadcom and Renesas Electronics are putting more focus on in-car entertainment with faster processors and networks for wireless HD movies and navigation, aiming to keep drivers informed and passengers entertained.
With PC sales slipping and the mobile device market proving highly competitive, chip makers are looking for greener pastures in other sectors like in-car entertainment and information.
From Renesas comes the R-Car M2 automotive SoC (System-on-a-Chip), which has enough power to handle simultaneous high-definition navigation, video and voice-controlled browsing.
The SoC is meant for use in mid-range systems. It features two ARM Cortex A-15 cores running at up to 1.5GHz and Renesas’ own SH-4A processor plus the PowerVR SGX544MP2 from Imagination Technologies for 3D graphics. This combination helps the M2 exceed the previous R-Car H1 with more than three times the CPU capacity and approximately six times better graphics performance.
Car makers that want to put a more advanced entertainment system in their upcoming models should go for the eight core R-Car H2 SoC, which was announced earlier this year. It is based on ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture, and uses four Cortex-A15 cores and another four Cortex-A7 cores.
The H2 will be able to handle four streams of 1080p video, including Blu-Ray at 60 frames per second, according to Renesas. Mass production is scheduled for the middle of next year, while the M2 won’t arrive in larger volumes until June 2015.
Broadcom on the other hand is seeking to drive better networking on the road. The company’s latest line of wireless chipsets for in-car connectivity uses the fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless standard, which offers enough bandwidth for multiple displays and screen resolution of up to 1080p. Use of the 5GHz band for video allows it to coexist with Bluetooth hands-free calls on 2.4GHz, according Broadcom.
Broadcom has also implemented Wi-Fi Direct and Miracast. Wi-Fi Direct lets products such as smartphones, cameras and in this case in-car computers connect to one another without joining a traditional hotspot network, while Miracast lets users stream videos and share photos between smartphones, tablets and displays.
The BCM89335 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Smart Ready combo chip and the BCM89071 Bluetooth and Bluetooth Smart Ready chip are now shipping in small volumes.
Two computer viruses are collaborating to defeat clean-up operations. Microsoft researcher Hyun Choi has found that the pair of viruses foil removal by regularly downloading updated versions of their malware partner.
It is the first time that such a defense plan has been noticed before. Choi said that the Vobfus and Beebone viruses, were regularly found together. Vobfus was the first to arrive on a machine, he said, and used different tactics to infect victims. Vobfus could be installed via booby-trapped links on websites, travel via network links to other machines or lurk on USB drives and infect machines they are plugged into.
Once installed, Vobfus downloaded Beebone which enrolled the machine into a botnet. After this the two start to work together to regularly download new versions of each other. If Vobfus was detected and remediated, it could have downloaded an undetected Beebone which can in turn download an undetected variant of Vobfus.
Vobfus become a persistent problem since 2009 when it first appeared.
Developers are becoming increasingly interested in developing apps for Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10.
According to ABI Research, Android and iOS remain dominant platforms, with Android in the lead in the smartphone space and iOS dominating the tablet market.
However, developers are also focusing on Windows Phone and BB10. AI analyst Aapo Markkanen believes 45 million Windows Phone devices will be in use by the end of the year, along with up to 20 million BB10 devices. Redmond will also have 5.5 million Windows powered tablet by the end of the year.
RIM is expected to unveil the phones at an event in New York City on Wednesday and will begin promoting BlackBerry 10 to consumers the following Sunday, Feb. 3, when it will air a TV commercial during the Super Bowl.
The sporting event attracts one of the largest TV audiences of the year in America, and companies pay millions of dollars for a 30-second advertising spot, underscoring how important it is for RIM that its new BlackBerry platform will be a hit. The same commercial will also air in Canada, RIM’s home country.
In announcing its publicity plans Friday, RIM also hinted at when the phones will be available to consumers. It said the TV spot “kicks off a week of worldwide launch activity for RIM’s BlackBerry 10 platform, along with the first two devices to run on the new platform.”
If the commercial marks the start of a weeklong buildup to the launch, that would put the North American release of the phones at roughly the start of the second week in February.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone mobile operating system is slowly increasing its market share in the UK, while Apple edges closer to archival Samsung.
That’s according to the latest numbers from research firm Kantar Worldpanel Comtech, which show that Microsoft’s Windows Phone has increased its UK market share from 2.2 percent to 5.9 percent in the past 12 months. The mobile operating system is doing even better in countries such as Italy, where it boasts a 13.9 percent market share.
Dominic Sunnebo, global consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel Comtech said, “At the end of 2012 the global OS picture shows Android on top, but clearly the rate of growth it experienced over the past year is beginning to slow as easy wins from first time smartphone buyers begin to reduce.
“It has been far slower than Microsoft would have liked, but Windows Phone is now starting to gain respectable shares in a number of key European countries.”
“However, its performance in the Chinese and US markets remains underwhelming. As the two largest smartphone markets in the world these remain key challenges for Microsoft to overcome during 2013.”
Kantar Worldpanel Comtech has also revealed that Apple is edging closer to rival Samsung, with each firm clinging to 32 percent and 35 percent of the smartphone market, respectively. Given that Samsung had a much healthier lead this time last year, these numbers seem to suggest that Apple’s iPhone 5 has sold better than rumors had indicated. However, all will be revealed during Apple’s quarterly earnings call tomorrow.
Apple and Samsung could soon have a third challenger on their hands, though, as research also shows that Nokia’s sales are improving in the UK smartphone market. Sales of the firm’s smartphones have increased 50 percent year-on-year, putting the firm’s market share at 5.2 percent.