STMicro Takes On Broadcom, Intel in Docsis 3.0

STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM) plans to submit a standalone Docsis 3.0 cable modem for certification testing at CableLabs later this month, an industry source familiar with the company's strategy tells Light Reading Cable.

Gaining certification will be an important step as STMicro prepares to take on the market's entrenched D3 silicon players: Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM). (See STMicro Preps a Run at Intel & Broadcom .)

STMicro marked its entry into the Docsis 3.0 market last week by demonstrating a chip at the IBC show in Amsterdam that can bond 16 downstream channels and four upstreams. A spokesman said STMicro intends to introduce its first D3 System on a Chip (SoC) in early 2013. The company has not confirmed plans to apply for CableLabs certification, but a source says the company is serious about becoming a third source for cable modem vendors.

According to the latest CableLabs certification schedule, material and equipment for wave 95 are due in by Sept. 27. The certification board is slated to meet on Dec. 18, when it will determine which products are to get the stamp. Testing alone will cost $75,000.

Gaining certification by then should set up STMicro for its planned product introduction. And, if history is the gauge, the sooner STMicro can complete that step, the better off it will be. STMicro and Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT) both made Docsis 2.0 silicon a few years ago, but their inability to gain certification rapidly helped Broadcom and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) win the bulk of that market. Intel bought TI's cable modem assets in 2010. (See Intel Snares TI's Cable Modem Business .)

Certification is a must
Although CableLabs certification is a requirement for retail cable modem products, MSOs typically require it before they'll even begin to test equipment themselves, let alone buy it. "This chip [from STMicro] is a non-event until certification. And then the real fun begins because there is a boat load of 'real world' learning" that occurs after certification, an industry source with deep knowledge of the Docsis market tells Light Reading Cable.

And STMicro is already well behind. Intel recently introduced a next-gen Puma 6 Docsis 3.0 chip that can bond 24 downsteam and 8 upstream, and Broadcom is said to be working on silicon that will surpass it. (See Intel's New Docsis 3.0 Chip Guns for 1-Gig and Broadcom's Next D3 Chip Will Leapfrog Intel .)

But at least one analyst believes it's early enough into the Docsis 3.0 product cycle for a company like STMicro to make an impact, particularly as D3 silicon continues to get embedded in set-tops and video gateways. Among recent examples, Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) said 83 percent of the CPEs shipped in the second quarter were Docsis 3.0. (See Docsis 3.0 Dominates Arris Modem Shipments .)

"There could be room for another chipset supplier, especially if they have something innovative that can bring the pricing down," says Infonetics Research Inc. analyst Jeff Heynen.

One source says STMicro has an ARM-based IP/QAM set-top box chip in the works that would also support Docsis 3.0. That same person notes that STMicro is also developing a chip for the 2.0 iteration of Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) , which is already being used for multi-room DVRs and will also play a role in shipping IP video from gateways to IP clients via the home's coax network. That strategy would put it in more competition with the industry's two key MoCA 2.0 chipmakers -- Broadcom and Entropic Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ENTR). STMicro introduced a MoCA 1.1-compliant platform in November 2011. (See Entropic Says MoCA 2.0 Is Fit to Ship and MoCA 2.0 'Enhanced' Mode Target: 800 Mbit/s.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

EuroCableGuy 12/5/2012 | 5:21:05 PM
re: STMicro Takes On Broadcom, Intel in Docsis 3.0

As the Infonetics analyst says, it could be good to have a third source of DOCSIS chip sets (and a European one at that); cable people often feel the choice is too limited between Intel and Broadcom, especially with the recurring rumors of Intel pulling the plug on STB markets.

This said, as your source rightly pointed out, the real fun begins after the DOCSIS certification: that's where the real world learning experience begins and, unlike its two competitors, ST cannot tap on the benefits of the accumulated experience gained from several generations of DOCSIS 1.x, 2.0 and 3.0 modems shipped on several continents (they do have one STB decoder SoC with on-board DOCSIS 2.0 though). They will need PacketCable too (third party?).

So it's going to be a real uphill battle for them and they'll need a lot of efforts (and money) just to catch up with Intel and Broadcom.

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