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PMC: Wireless, optical telecom markets will soldier on

Posted: 07 Dec 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Greg Lang? optical telecom? SAS controller? 4G TD-LTE technology? SCSI Express standard?

In a recent interview, Greg Lang, chief executive of fabless semiconductor company PMC-Sierra Inc., believed that the outlook in wireless and optical telecom remains good despite carriers spending less than expected this year. Lang also gave his views on PMC's core markets while also deflecting reports that his company is under pressure to consider a sale.

Activist investor Ralph Whitworth said in a regulatory filing in January his company acquired a 7.17 per cent stake in PMC and said the chip vendor should explore strategic alternatives. "The reports [of a possible sale] came out in February and here we are," said Lang, a finance specialist who climbed the management ranks at Intel and became CEO of PMC in 2008. (see PMC-Sierra ponders sale, reports say)

"I feel very comfortable with our ability to compete with the resources we have," said Lang, noting the telecom chip designer now gets most of its revenues from storage components, particularly expanders for the Serial-attached SCSI (SAS) interface used in high-end disc drives.

PMC announced a 12 Gbit/s SAS controller earlier this year it expects to have in production in late 2013, when a 12G SAS ecosystem is ripe. The company also serves as editor of the SCSI Express standard that will marry the server reliability features of SAS with the faster transport of PCI Express, expected to serve a growing market of flash drives and sub-systems.

"Flash is the most disruptive thing in storage in a long time, so there will be a lot of opportunities," said Lang. Intel has not yet weighed in on the SCSI Express standard but "I think they will eventually see the value proposition it brings, and it doesn't take away" from Intel's work on the separate NVMe interface, he said.

PMC's archrival, LSI Corp., has a larger share of the storage chip business and is making hay with the flash controller it acquired with start-up SandForce. Despite the rivalries in storage and wireless with LSI, Lang downplayed talk of a merger of the companies.

Outlook for optical, wireless telecom
Turning to the telecom markets traditionally core for PMC, Lang noted carrier spending in 2012 "has been weaker than anyone expected," citing Europe's financial crisis and reduced spending by China's top carriers.

"More recently there's been some positive data points that could lead to a healthier 2013," he said, noting AT&T's announcement of plans to boost spending and signs China might award licenses by the end of 2013 for its 4G TD-LTE technology.

In optical core nets, "the big transition to packet networking really hasn't happened other than in access networks and PONs," Lang said. Nevertheless, PMC has rolled out OTN components to help with the shift which new carrier Ethernet standards could help accelerate.

In wireless, PMC's WinPath3 network processors have started to gain traction with designs in six to seven of the top ten wireless backhaul systems. The chips acquired with Wintegra took longer than expected to get into production but are set to become "a $40-$50 million-a-year business that's poised to grow nicely," Lang said.

A new integrated antenna chip set for radio head ends holds promise, but won't appear in trials until the middle of next year. Lang suggested PMC has 10 Gbit/s PON components ready for trails in Japan which is expected to pioneer that next-generation, last-mile market.

"In our three major segments of storage, optical and wireless, we feel like we have technical pieces that serve us well, and we feel we have the scale to participate there," Lang said. "At a broader level, the industry is ripe for some consolidation, and PMC can, and will and has participated in that," he said.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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