Synad's Three-Way Play

Unstrung startup tip Synad Technologies Ltd. (see Top 25 Update: Silicon'n'Services) has unveiled its Mercury5G multimode chipset to prying industry eyes, claiming it is capable of supporting all three Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 802.11 standards.

Based on the company’s AgileRF technology, the chipset aims to support the original 802.11b (11-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) standard, as well as provide interoperable connectivity with 802.11a technology (54-Mbit/s over 5GHz) and the draft 802.11g standard (54-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz).

According to Synad’s vice president of marketing and business development, Kevin Mapplebeck, the chipset is due to start volume production and shipments “in the early part of the summer.” Mapplebeck also expects to announce customer details in the same timeframe.

Synad is entering a highly competitive market, going up against the likes of Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR/A), Atheros Communications, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Envara Inc., and RF Micro Devices Inc. (Nasdaq: RFMD), all of whom have previously announced multimode chipsets.

However, as IDC analyst Ken Furer points out, there is a big difference between announcing a multimode chipset and delivering one to customers. He says that currently only Broadcom is actually shipping a chipset that supports all three standards, while Atheros has "production-ready" chipsets but is waiting for the g standard to be finalized in the summer. Intersil Corp. (Nasdaq: ISIL) is also expected to start shipping a multimode product soon.

Indeed, Furer says that when he was originally briefed by Synad in December 2001, they were expecting to have a chipset that supported the a and b standard ready for market in the middle of 2002. "That's pretty common in this market... they obviously had some problems getting product out of the door," says Furer.

Venture capitalist backers Alta Partners of San Francisco and Alta Berkeley Venture Partners of London will be hoping that Synad lives up to expectations, following last year’s second round of financing (see Synad Gets $20.7M).

The company hasn’t been frugal in its spending, having used some of the cash to open two offices in Taipei, Taiwan, and Irvine, California. Mapplebeck reckons that with the majority of wireless LAN hardware being manufactured in Taiwan, it makes sense for the company to locate in the same region as its prospective customers. “Our customers will all be Asian and US companies,” he comments. “We don’t foresee a strong market for us here in Europe in the short to medium term.”

"They are certainly in the right market, as a/b/g functionality is definitely where we see the future going,” says Andy Buss, senior analyst at Canalys.com Ltd. “They are ahead of Intel's Centrino product, which only currently supports the b standard, so they can satisfy demand that Intel cannot" (see Intel Flies Euro Centrino Flag).

Buss cites Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Proxim Corp. (Nasdaq: PROX) as potential acquirers of Synad. But for now, at least, Synad’s marketing man is playing down the notion of any such scenario. “We are not trying to set ourselves up as an acquisition target or as an IPO,” he states. “We are just trying to build a good business.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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