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November 2009

Semiconductor Sales on Track for Rapid Growth

Something very different happened in the semiconductor industry this past year. The sales downturn, although severe, was completely unlike any previous semiconductor industry downturn. Seeing the difference and understanding semiconductor industry dynamics leads to only one conclusion; Semico Research Corporation’s forecast: double digit increases in semiconductor sales, peaking in 2011, followed by a downturn starting in 2012.

The 2008/2009 downturn in total worldwide semiconductor sales was the first downturn in semiconductor industry history that was not driven by huge excess inventories leading to falling ASPs. It was also the first downturn that was not preceded by a year with an increase in annual sales of more 30%. Those facts have important implications.

Digital Photo Frames: Hanging on the Holidays

Digital photo frames are a popular gift that have begun to integrate themselves into the average home. Digital photo frames have recently become more popular as the ASP has decreased and online photo storage services have increased. Semico expects a 57% CAGR between 2009 and 2013 as digital photo frames grow from 10.3 million units to over 62 million units.

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An Audio Bridge to Good Music

Is the digital multimedia home finally here?  Media hubs and PC-centric solutions have come and gone, too expensive or not offering the right features; but the BridgeCo Inc. DM870 Networked Media Processor and JukeBlox software platform offers a simple, inexpensive way to connect multiple devices in the digital home.  The DM870 can deliver quality audio or pictures from the Internet or other sources to PCs, entertainment centers or home theater systems, and it is inexpensive enough to be used in iPod docks, clock radios or table-top radios. A major inhibitor to the realization of the digital home has been the confusing jumble of digital standards.  PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, entertainment centers and cell phones all have their own unique standards for the compression, transmission or display of digital information.  To help overcome this problem, the manufacturers of consumer electronics devices have proposed a standard, DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), that allows home entertainment devices to share their content on a home network, using a DLNA interface built into each device.  The DLNA interface will be built into hundreds of millions of consumer devices.

A New Mobile Wi-Fi Chip, Better in Every Way

Faster, smaller, more transmission power, less battery power.  In a few words, that describes the Atheros AR6003, a recently released 802.11n Wi-Fi chip for cell phone and other handheld mobile applications.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  The AR6003 is leaps and bounds ahead of even the previous industry-leading Atheros AR6002 mobile Wi-Fi chip. Faster:  The AR6003 is a one-stream 802.11n chip, backwards compatible to 802.11g.  It is capable of transmitting data at up to 85Mbs TCP/IP in the 5GHz band/40 MHz mode and up to 48Mbs TCP/IP in the 2.4GHz/20MHz mode.  That means that it can support media-rich applications on cell phones or other mobile devices. Smaller:  The AR6003 is only 5mm X 5mm, 50% smaller than the previous world’s smallest mobile Wi-Fi chip, the Atheros AR6002. More Transmission Power:  The AR6002 uses an on-chip CMOS PA to provide 19dBm of transmission power.  That’s power on a par with Wi-Fi routers, which eliminates a problem.  Many mobile Wi-Fi chips can receive signals from Wi-Fi routers at a range beyond the point where they have enough transmitting power to respond.  The AR6003 can respond at points up to a router’s maximum range. Less Battery Power:  The AR6003 needs only 0.45mA when connected and 57mA when active.  That’s 20% less current than the AR6002, which had been the lowest power chip available.  In addition, the AR6003 has on-chip power management circuitry so that it can be connected directly to a battery.

Car Guys Have Blind Spots

Car guys, and I am one, have some blind spots.  We want more car than we really need or can use, and we think we’re better drivers than we really are.  Those blind spots make us poor judges of what most people want or need and of the cars that the automotive industry should be building in the future. 

The car magazines lead us astray.  Their road tests feature exotic cars:  Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Lotuses and the like.  Those cars are desirable, but they are fantasies.  Their production is only a tiny fraction of total worldwide automobile production.  They are far beyond the means of all but a few of the magazines’ readers.  Their performance is beyond any reasonable requirement for driving on the road. 

The implied standard of comparison in the car magazines is a racing car.  Cars are often rated based on their performance on a race track.  The assumption is that a car that performs well on a race track will be a desirable street car.  

E-readers: Reader Me This, Reader Me That

The E-reader is a highly talked about device that is picking up steam in the consumer industry. While developed in the late 90s, they have only recently become popular, with the release of Amazon's Kindle and more recently, Barnes and Noble's nook. Semico expects a 66% CAGR between 2009 and 2013 as E-readers grow from 3.7 million units to approximately 28 million units.

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