TeleCIS Maxes on MIMO

Chipset vendor TeleCIS Wireless Inc. is talking up its potential to compete in the WiMax market despite a relatively late market entry and dearth of signed customers, claiming its MIMO-supporting 802.16 silicon will enable equipment manufacturers to save up to 50 percent on production costs.

In November last year the Silicon Valley, Calif.-based company announced a shift in strategy, moving away from the 802.11 market into the much-hyped WiMax arena (see TeleCIS Targets WiMax). “Previously the company was 802.11 focused,” David Sumi, VP of marketing, tells Unstrung. “We didn’t make the chips, we licensed IP to others, such as Samsung. Going forward we won’t be an IP company in 802.16. We will be making and selling chips.”

TeleCIS aims to launch its first WiMax chip, dubbed TCW1620 and focused on the 802.16d fixed wireless market, in the fourth quarter of this year, followed by silicon based on the as yet unratified mobile 802.16e standard. “It will be a combined fixed/mobile chip that we hope to launch at the end of '06,” says Sumi. “Then a converged SOC [System-on-a-Chip], which will combine fixed WiMax, mobile WiMax, and the 802.11 standards, will follow in 2007. Our end vision is a multi-protocol chip.”

Grand plans, but TeleCIS already trails rivals such as Fujitsu Ltd. (OTC: FJTSY; Tokyo: 6702), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Sequans Communications, and Wavesat Wireless Inc. in the race to launch silicon and sign customer deals (see Chip Battle Maxes Up). Startup Wavesat claims its DM256 chip is the first 802.16 standards-compliant product available to WiMax equipment vendors, and touts nex-G Systems Pte Ltd., Trango Broadband Wireless Inc., WaveIP Ltd., and WaveRider Communications Inc. as customers (see Wavesat Unveils WiMax Chip and Wavesat Breaks Into WiMax).

Meanwhile, French minnow Sequans expects to launch its chipsets in “mid-2005” and lays claim to two signed deals at Airspan Networks and Cambridge Broadband Ltd. (see Sequans Wins Customers and Sequans Maxes Up). Fujitsu has announced a deal with Canadian vendor Wi-LAN Inc. (Toronto: WIN), while market giant Intel has signed the likes of Alvarion Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR), Redline Communications Inc., and Proxim Corp. (Nasdaq: PROX). (See Fujitsu, Wi-LAN Team Up, Intel, Alvarion Develop 802.16, Proxim & Intel: MANly Friends, and WiMax Gets Serious.)

So how does TeleCIS expect to make its mark on an already crowded market? Sumi claims that demand for MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) technology in the WiMax market will give the company an edge over competitors.

MIMO is an advanced antenna technology that enhances the performance of WiMax, delivering a touted four-fold increase in data capacity and spectral efficiency. However, Sumi says that MIMO requires the use of at least two antennas; others working with wireless LAN MIMO technology would argue that it requires more than two antennas for true MIMO. However you define MIMO, using two or more antennas essentially doubles the cost of production.

“Our chip can handle two antennas, and that sets us apart,” says Sumi. “If you want to have a MIMO-enabled CPE you must have two antennas. And in designs from the likes of Intel, Fujitsu, and Sequans, you’ll need two of their ASICs, two of their processors, everything times two. Whereas we looked ahead and said this just has to be able to support two antennas in one chip.” Sumi claims such a strategy will enable TeleCIS to cut the total production cost of 802.16 network equipment “probably by one third to one half.”

“We are going to have the lowest price available. The bill of materials for a CPE using our approach will be under $100. At under $100 you start getting into the $200-$300 selling price range which is the sweet spot for the residential market.”

The TeleCIS man also appears unconcerned by the vendor’s lack of customer deals. “We know we are four to six months behind everybody else, but we have been told many times that if we deliver what we say we can, customers will use our chip in a heartbeat.” Sumi argues the market is still in its nascent stage and expects to see some “swapping out” of previously announced deals.

“This market is going to change. The likes of Alvarion, Airspan, and SR Telecom aren’t going to be the big players a few years from now. It will be the big equipment vendors; the Siemens, the Ericssons. So whilst we see the traditional BWA vendors as our target customers, we also firmly believe it is going to be the big guys who really take things forward.”

With a headcount of 30, the company has raised a total of $8.7 million in funding and is hunting for a further cash injection (see TeleCIS Raises $4M). “We are talking to people and getting very strong feedback from the investment community so will be doing something in the next few months.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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