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Broadcom's Next D3 Chip Will Leapfrog Intel

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
6/15/2012
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Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) has mothballed an original plan to create a new Docsis 3.0 chip that bonds 16 downstream channels in favor of pushing ahead on a 32-channel version that can pump out maximum downstream speeds of 1.2Gbit/s, Light Reading Cable has learned.

That sort of target would enable Broadcom to outpace the downstream capabilities of the Puma6, a new D3 chip from Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) that supports two different configurations -- one that bonds 16 downstream channels and four upstream channels, and a "media gateway" version that bonds 24 downstream and eight upstreams. (See Intel's New Docsis 3.0 Chip Guns for 1-Gig .)

If Broadcom does go for a 32-channel downstream, the chip will be capable of 1.2Gbit/s in North American Docsis systems, which use 6MHz-wide channel spacing, and up to 1.6Gbit/s using EuroDocsis, which employs 8MHz-wide channels.

"They'd like to leapfrog Intel," an industry source says of Broadcom's new plan. And that strategy would fit how Broadcom's played it before. The first Docsis 3.0 chip from Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) (TI sold its Docsis chip business to Intel in 2010) supported four downstreams and four upstreams -- the minimum configuration allowed by the CableLabs specifications -- only to see Broadcom swoop in with an 8x4 chipset that ended up leading the Docsis 3.0 market. (See Intel Snares TI's Cable Modem Business .)

Broadcom wouldn't comment on future product plans, but it appears to be playing from well behind at the moment. Industry sources say Broadcom's new D3 chip won't be out until next year, perhaps up to nine months from now. Meanwhile, Intel's Puma6 is already sampling and has at least two suppliers -- Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Hitron Technologies Inc. -- developing products on the new D3 chipset. (See Hitron Brings New D3 Modem to ANGA.)

And even if Broadcom is able to move up the timing, any jump ahead of Intel may be fleeting, as Intel also has a 32-channel D3 chipset on the roadmap, according to sources.

But will the current D3 generation gap threaten to do any damage to Broadcom's market-leading position? After all, cable operators aren't expected to deploy services that require 24 Docsis channels or more in a serious fashion for a while.

It might. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), for one, is already asking vendors to support Intel's Puma6. So when Broadcom enters its new chip to the market, it "may not be good enough to dislodge these design wins," says a cable industry source.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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