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”
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.
MIT researchers have built and tested an inflatable antenna that can fold into such a satellite, then inflate in orbit to enable long range communications — from seven times the distance possible today.
The technology will let the small satellites, called CubeSats, move further into space and send valuable information to scientists back on earth.
“With this antenna, you could transmit from the moon, and even farther than that,” said Alessandra Babuscia, a researcher on the inflatable antenna team at MIT, in a statement. “This antenna is one of the cheapest and most economical solutions to the problem of communication. But all this research builds a set of options to allow the spacecraft … to fly in deep space.”
The MIT effort comes as engineers at the University of Michigan work on ways to propel such small spacecraft into interplanetary space. The team is building a plasma thruster that could fit in a 10-centimeter space and push a small satellite-bearing spacecraft into deep space.
The university researchers using superheated plasma that would push through a magnetic field to propel a CubeSat.
The MIT researchers are seeking to solve the communications problems and enable far-afield CubeSats to send data to and receive instructions from Earth.
The CubeSat devices cannot support radio dishes that are used today to let spacecraft communicate when far from Earth’s orbit.
The inflatable antennas significantly amplifies radio signals, allowing a CubeSat to transmit data back to Earth at a higher rate, according to the university.
MIT engineers have built two prototype antennae, each a meter wide, out of Mylar, which is a polyester film known for its strength and use as an electric insulator. One antenna was a cone shape, while the other looks more like a cylinder when inflated. Each fits into a 10-cubic-centimeter space within a CubeSat.
Each prototype contains a few grams of benzoic acid, which can be converted to a gas to inflate the antenna, MIT noted.
In testing, the cylindrical antenna performed “slightly better” than the cone shaped device, transmitting data 10 times faster, and seven times farther than existing CubeSat antennae.
AT&T plans to buy NextWave Wireless, a holder of spectrum that could be used for mobile data services, for about $600 million.
NextWave owns licenses for spectrum in both the WCS (Wireless Communications Services) and the AWS (Advanced Wireless Services) band. AT&T said in a press release it plans to use that spectrum to feed “skyrocketing” demand for mobile data, but it will have to wait for an ongoing Federal Communications Commission review before it can take advantage of the WCS band.
The FCC auctioned WCS spectrum in 1997, but it has not been used for mobile data because of rules designed to prevent interference with satellite users in adjacent bands, AT&T said. In June, AT&T and satellite radio company Sirius XM filed a proposal to the FCC for using WCS while protecting the nearby satellite users, but the agency is still reviewing that plan. If it is approved, AT&T hopes to start using the WCS band in about three years.
The NextWave deal is only the latest in a series of moves by big mobile operators to secure more spectrum. AT&T characterized its proposed merger with T-Mobile USA last year, which was opposed by the FCC and other regulators, as first and foremost a deal to acquire spectrum. Verizon Wireless announced a deal earlier this year, which is still under FCC review, to acquire unused wireless licenses from major U.S. cable operators.
Sprint Nextel will end its planned 15-year 4G network relationship with would-be hybrid network operator LightSquared, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
The end of the Sprint partnership, which was due to expire on Thursday, would be nearly as big a blow to the foundering LightSquared as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s proposal last month to revoke the carrier’s authorization to build a land-based network.
Since the deal was announced last July, Sprint had been planning to host LightSquared’s radio spectrum on its Network Vision infrastructure. LightSquared was to pay Sprint US$9 billion in cash for that hosting and said the plan would save it $13 billion over eight years.
For its part, Sprint had looked to the partnership for extra spectrum on which to run its own planned LTE network. It would get $4.5 billion worth of credits to use some of LightSquared’s spectrum in addition to its own and that of longtime partner Clearwire. Sprint extended the deal twice to give LightSquared more time to win FCC approval for its network.
Sprint will terminate the LightSquared deal on Friday and return $65 million in prepayments by LightSquared, according to the Journal.
Motorola announced on Twitter that the Android software update for the Xoom tablet is being pushed out in phases starting March 11, which includes enhancements to support the upcoming Adobe Flash Player 10.2.
Launched on February 24, the Xoom was pushed out to the market with some seemingly rushed, half done features, just so it arrived on the market before a new iPad. Despite certain hardware advantages over the original and new iPad, the Xoom flaunted 4G radios, SD card memory expansion and Flash support. However, none of these features were actually operational when the device launched. Read More….