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Comms chips

PMC's Wireless Connection

6:00 PM -- I was surprised to find out PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS) even makes WiMax chips, but the WiMax part announced today turns out to be a third-generation device. (See PMC Does WiMax, GPON.)

Tom Sun, vice president of the broadband wireless division, says it's just an extension of the mixed-signal expertise that goes back to PMC's days as an "optical" company. To break into WiMax, PMC opted to build a multiband radio, capable of switching from one frequency band to another via software commands.

"This is a problem the other semiconductor companies have not addressed. They're always looking at a 2.5 GHz market or a 3.5 GHz market," Sun says.

Now, PMC has yet to make much of a splash in WiMax, and this multiband advantage doesn't seem like the kind of thing that's going to last long. So PMC is making the most of its time. The company's target market is customer premises equipment -- not retail gear, but the kind that a carrier would provide to its subscribers. The theory is that carriers would appreciate having a box that could adapt depending on how spectrum is being carved up in different markets.

So far, the theory seems to have worked. "We targeted about eight customers and we won them all," Sun says.

PMC's emergence doesn't mean trouble for WiMax chip startups such as Beceem Communications Inc. and Sequans Communications . They target the base-band portion of a WiMax module, an area PMC chose not to touch. "We looked at doing base-band ourselves, but that is a big, big investment initially," Sun says.

Instead, it's Maxim Integrated Products Inc. (Nasdaq: MXIM) PMC is going up against. Other competitors might include Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX) and NXP Semiconductors N.V. (Nasdaq: NXPI), but Sun notes they've been emphasizing Long Term Evolution (LTE) more than WiMax -- not that the distinction is important for physical-layer chips. If OEM demand for multiband radios gets strong enough, PMC's advantage could evaporate quickly.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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