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Agere acquires physical-layer specialist

Posted: 27 Aug 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:agere systems? massana? ethernet network?

Agere Systems Inc. has acquired Massana Ltd, an Irish physical-layer Ethernet specialist which had shifted from DSP cores for Digital Subscriber Lines, to devices for physical-layer Gigabit Ethernet functions. Agere offered 9.1 million shares of common stock, worth approximately $26.2 million, for all assets of Massana.

Agere will use the Massana acquisition as the core of its new Ethernet division, headed by Ed Roberts, former vice president of systems and architectures at Agere. The division will take on the 45 employees of Massana, in addition to centralizing Agere's existing custom business in Ethernet MAC and interface devices.

Roberts said semi-custom Ethernet business will remain in ASIC groups, but that his group will look at a variety of network interface card opportunities, as well as future chipsets in Ethernet in the First Mile and Metro Ethernet markets.

Given the breadth of Massana's analog and DSP talents, Agere could consider offering DSL physical-layer devices in the future, Roberts added. Meanwhile, Agere will update the existing Massana 0.18?m single-channel transceiver in a 0.13?m CMOS process in early 2004, and will produce an octal version of the transceiver by the middle of 2004. Agere's interest in Massana stemmed from a supply contract Massana had with the desktop group at Agere to supply physical-layer devices for NIC cards.

Ron Steudler, who will direct marketing in the new division, said Agere will not hesitate to go directly against existing Ethernet physical-layer and switching specialists in desktop and enterprise switching applications. In fact, Roberts added, large OEMs who are existing customers of Agere for network processors and controllers, had encouraged the company to look at Massana, in order to increase the number of chip suppliers in the combined MAC/PHY device market.

Massana was one of many semiconductor and IP companies that reinvented themselves during the recession. The company was founded in 1996 in Dublin, Ireland, intending to apply retargetable FIR filter, MAC and vector-processing designs to the ADSL market. Massana exhibited at DSP shows in the U.S. in 1999 to show off its Filu co-processor architecture, and established a U.S. headquarters in Campbell, California, under Paul Costigan, Brian Murray, and Irving Gold. At the time, the business was intended to be fully IP-based, with no dedicated chipsets produced by Massana.

In April 2000, Massana established a relationship with Lexra Inc. to combine its Filu cores with Lexra's RISC cores. Soon thereafter, as the communications markets declined, Lexra was sued by MIPS Inc., and agreed to leave the cores business in February 2002. Lexra went out of business earlier this year, after an unsuccessful hostile takeover attempt against MIPS.

Massana, meanwhile, decided the DSL market was less appealing than the emerging physical-layer market for 1- and 10Gbps Ethernet. Murray, who served as CTO of Massana prior to the acquisition, said all IP cores business was virtually halted in 2000 in favor of standard physical-layer chips. After a second round of financing in October 2000 that brought Massana $16.5 million, the company shifted to a sole focus on Ethernet, and brought in an 18-member design team from Madrid, Spain, with Ethernet expertise.

Its U.S. headquarters then moved from Campbell to Santa Clara, though the bulk of its engineering and management staff remained in Dublin and Madrid.

Massana has introduced a first-generation Everest family for Gigabit Ethernet PHY layers used in copper-based Ethernet networks. The company is a member of the Ethernet in the First Mile working group in IEEE, and has presented several papers to the IEEE on short-loop signal conditioning.

Proprietary aspects of the Everest family include the IntelliRate method of oversampling, allowing a signal energy double that of traditional transceivers; IntelliProbe, an on-chip diagnostics platform; and IntelliTune, a method of optimizing transceivers for cable quality.

The stock offered by Agere is only $3 million more than the total venture funding received by Massana in two rounds, a reflection of the continued tough market faced by young companies, even those with proven products in the field.

- Loring Wirbel

EE Times

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