Comms chips

Texas Instruments Keeps Its Voice

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is about to absorb the cable modem business of Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), but the Docsis silicon maker confirmed that Intel is not purchasing TI's VoIP business, which makes software that powers the voice service component of embedded multimedia terminal adapters (EMTAs). (See Intel Snares TI's Cable Modem Business and What's Intel's Next Move?)

So, does this mean that Intel intends to abandon the cable voice modem market and concede it to TI's longtime Docsis rival, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)?

Not so fast. "Per the agreement between the two companies, TI will continue to support the voice technology," a TI official said in an emailed response to questions. "This coordination between Intel and TI will ensure voice quality continuity and robustness for current products and continuity into future Puma products." (Puma is the brand for TI's cable modem chip products.)

That "coordination," according to an industry source, also includes a license that allows Intel to use TI's embedded VoIP software. TI locked in its VoIP software play in 1999 when it bought Telogy Networks Inc. in a deal valued at $435 million.

TI has yet to confirm any VoIP licensing ties with Intel, but that important bit would ensure that Intel can compete with Broadcom at the EMTA level, as well as in newer Docsis 3.0-powered gateways. Among products in that category, all "headless" gateways (devices that can route data around the house but don't have set-top-like video rendering capabilities) are expected to support cable VoIP services. (See Docsis 3.0 Enters the Gateway Era .)

"If Intel doesn't have a voice component, they won't have a solution," says an industry source. "The whole deal won't work for Intel if they lose access to [TI's] VoIP software."

So why didn’t Intel go for the whole enchilada? It may be because TI simply couldn't afford to let go of it, given that several of its ASIC groups, not just the cable modem division, rely heavily on that VoIP technology. Besides, Intel is considered an expert ASIC house, so it made more sense for them to grab just TI's intellectual property for Docsis modem silicon.

And the time could be right for Intel to jump in with this particular strategic buy, given the investments that the company will need to make to properly integrate TI's technology into headless and video-optimized gateway designs.

From this point on, it's unlikely that new generations of D3 silicon will result in more cost reductions. Instead, each new version will likely come with enhanced capabilities, such as the ability to bond 16 or 32 downstream channels -- what cable will likely need to simulcast its video lineups in IP format.

The good news for Docsis modem and gateway makers is that Intel's bigger commitment to cable will ensure that they'll have a silicon source to counter Broadcom and keep pricing under control. The question now is whether Intel will be able to execute those integrations as well as Broadcom historically has.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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