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5.8GHz RF is focused for analog vets

Posted: 16 May 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ml5800? cordless phone transceiver? asp? linear-array? ism band?

After years of dormancy in the analog IC business, Micro Linear Corp. will concentrate on 5.8GHz RF products in an effort to gain traction in the sluggish chip market.

The company has developed 1.5Mbps BiCMOS transceivers that operate in the 5.8GHz frequency band, and Uniden America Corp. plans to use them in its cordless telephones. Uniden said its 5.8GHz phones are free from the interference that is starting to surface in the 2.4GHz ISM band, which will soon be overcrowded, the company said.

The cordless-phone transceivers will point Micro Linear toward profitability this year, said Timothy Richardson, who became president and CEO of the supplier last year. The company is exploring other applications for transceivers in the 5.8GHz range, as well as higher data rates for its BiCMOS and SiGe parts.

Seeking turnaround

Founded roughly 20 years ago, Micro Linear once focused on customizable linear arrays and modifiable ASSPs. HDD makers were key customers for Micro Linear's array-based products. But while the arrays offered rapid time-to-market, they utilized large amounts of silicon and consequently could not compete on a cost basis with full-custom designs.

Micro Linear's decision to vacate the linear-array business left it without a clear focus.

It trailed Linear Technology Corp. and Maxim Integrated Products Inc. in terms of analog craftsmanship, and lost volume sales to National Semiconductor Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc. Attempts to compete in the Pentium processor core voltage-regulator market proved to be short-term, and the company sold its power-management business to Fairchild Semiconductor in 2000.

Shedding the power-management activity allowed the company to focus on RF components-building blocks and integrated transceivers for 900MHz, 2.4GHz, and 5GHz applications. But when competition in the 2.4GHz component sector became fierce, Micro Linear attempted to carve out a leadership position in the 5GHz ISM band, developing transceivers capable of 108Mbps data transfers, Richardson said. Shifting standardization efforts frustrated some of the company's efforts; Richardson called the IEEE's adoption of the 802.11g standard an "unfortunate event."

Richardson, who became CEO amidst a drain on capital and manpower, developed a formula to capitalize on the company's forays into the 5GHz region. A former vice president of Beacon Electronics, Richardson had been on the Micro Linear board since May 2001. The company at that time was already delivering 900MHz and 2.4GHz building blocks to Uniden for its cordless phones. Richardson wondered about the utility of a part that operated at a slower data rate in the 5GHz band - say, at 1.5Mbps.

The result is the ML5800, a 5.725GHz to 5.85GHz band radio used in Uniden's latest cordless-phone set. The 300MHz swath is still relatively free of the WLAN traffic, microwave-oven noise and video-camera transmissions that now clutter the 2.4GHz ISM band, Richardson said.

The ML5800 is a direct-sequence spread-spectrum frequency-shift keying device that transmits and receives 1.536Mbps signals in 2.048MHz-spaced channels. The device integrates practically all the frequency generation, receiver and transmit functions on one BiCMOS device.

In addition to digital cordless phones, Micro Linear believes the transceiver could support MP3 audio- or video-streaming applications in wireless PDAs or wireless computer game controllers.

- Stephan Ohr


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