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Broadcom Plays Foundry to AlcaLu

Craig Matsumoto
6/29/2011

In launching its FP3 network processor on Tuesday, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) wasn't shy about saying how much help it had gotten from the chip industry, including six partners that helped with various aspects of memory and memory interfaces.

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) stands out, though. "They were our foundry" for FP3, says Basil Alwan, president of AlcaLu's IP division.

Of course, "foundry" doesn't mean Broadcom actually built the chips; the company doesn't own a fab. But Broadcom did supply a lot of the pieces that were used by AlcaLu's designers, Alwan says. The list includes software tools and some cores for elements such as serializer/deserializers. All told, the chipmaker created more than 100 customized chip libraries for AlcaLu, according to the equipment vendor's press release issued Tuesday.

Alwan stresses that AlcaLu's engineers designed the FP3; it's just that modern chip design is done using lots of prepackaged parts, rather than building everything from scratch. And one thing a foundry can do is supply some of those parts and the tools to apply them.

AlcaLu enlisted plenty of other chipmakers to help with different aspects of the FP3. The other names in Tuesday's press release were Cypress Semiconductor Corp. (NYSE: CY), GSI Technology , Micron Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: MU), NetLogic Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: NETL) and Samsung Semiconductor. But the partnership with Broadcom was the big one.

The relationship goes way back. Alwan says Broadcom licensed a switch fabric from (and even invested in) TiMetra, the startup that built what is now AlcaLu's 7750 Service Router. (See Alcatel & TiMetra Seal the Deal.)

It's not surprising that AlcaLu enlisted some chip help, considering 100-Gbit/s networking is pushing the limits of chip technology. What might raise eyebrows more is the mention of Broadcom, which isn't known for helping other companies build chips. That's more the purview of companies closer to the ASIC business, such as LSI Corp. (NYSE: LSI). But it's not the first time Broadcom has gotten into this kind of work.

"Broadcom has basically been an ASIC supplier to some large customers in the past," including HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), says Bob Wheeler, an analyst with The Linley Group . "Broadcom just doesn't tend to advertise that they're in that business."

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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