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CONEXANT UNVEILS SINGLE-CHIP CABLE MODEM WITH MICROPROCESSOR.

Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq:CNXT), formerly Rockwell Semiconductor Systems, has unveiled the first single-chip cable modem to include a microprocessor and other key functions that would otherwise be expensive add-on requirements for building a complete cable-modem product.

In addition to cutting cable-modem product costs by as much as 25 percent as compared to alternative chips, Conexant's programmable solution is the first to offer a software-upgrade path so that cable-modem manufacturers can migrate products to the next industry standard and new feature sets, without requiring a new chip.

Conexant's CN9414 cable-modem chip is the first in the company's planned family of InfoSurge digital broadband products. The CN9414 chip is a key, cornerstone product for the company as it rapidly expands its product portfolio and seeks opportunities to integrate multiple core technologies across a diverse range of converging communications and computing applications.

"We have accomplished two key goals with our cable-modem chip," said A. C. D'Augustine, senior vice president and general manager for Conexant's Digital Infotainment Division. "First, we've dramatically cut costs by squeezing most of the capabilities of an entire cable-modem circuit board onto a single chip. Second, we've provided manufacturers with the critical ability to software-upgrade their products so they can support the DOCSIS 1.1 standard or make mid-course feature corrections or additions. Our programmable architecture also helps pave the way for future cable-modem applications including digital video, multifunction home networking, interactive TV and Internet telephony over cable, all drawing from our broad portfolio of communications technologies."

Cable-modem technology is capable of delivering data, digital video, telephony and Internet access over existing coax cable networks, at speeds up to 1,000 times faster than a standard 56 Kbps voice-band analog modem.

Conexant's CN9414 cable-modem chip initially supports the industry's Multimedia Cable Network Systems Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification Version 1.0. It will also support planned DOCSIS 1.1 extensions that add security and other features which are considered critical for mainstream product deployment.

Volume production of the CN9414 chip is scheduled for the third quarter of 1999. This will allow manufacturers to align their product-development programs with DOCSIS 1.1 certification, which is also anticipated during this period.

Broadband market analyst Kinetic Strategies Inc. estimates one-quarter of all North American cable homes are now eligible to receive cable modem service and more than 600,000 homes subscribe. On average, multi-system operators are now installing some 2,000 cable modem subscriber per day. Cable modems offer an attractive alternative to analog modems, but until now were several times more expensive and based on proprietary standards.

"With the arrival of low-cost, highly-integrated standardized silicon solutions, the cable-modem market has the potential to very rapidly turn into a classic consumer electronics business," said Michael Harris, president of Kinetic Strategies. "Programmable chips will enable a smooth migration to new cable-modem technology standards, including support for related home-networking, videoconferencing, set-top-box and IP telephony applications."

Technical Details

Until now, cable-modem chips have consisted of physical-layer functions and a fixed-function Media Access Controller. Going significantly further than this, Conexant has capitalized on its Intellectual Property portfolio and integrated all necessary data-conversion components, a complete physical layer that is compliant with both U.S. and European standards, and a programmable MAC which is implemented in software via an on-chip Advanced RISC Machines microprocessor.

Also included is an Ethernet MAC, a Universal Serial Bus transceiver, a 40/56-bit encryption engine and key memory components. All that is required for a complete modem is the addition of a tuner and memory, and Conexant is also planning further functional integration opportunities based on its leadership work in tuner ICs.

One of the most significant advances in Conexant's CN9414 cable-modem chip is the implementation of all cable MAC functionality in software via its on-chip ARM microprocessor. Modem manufacturers can accommodate evolving standards simply by upgrading software. They can differentiate individual products at the MAC layer without having to modify or replace hardware.

If they wish to design their own MAC, they no longer must implement the physical layer in a separate chip, they can use the CN9414 chip's RISC engine to implement their own MAC layer in an architecture that is compliant with the world's DOCSIS, Digital Audio Visual Council and Digital Video Broadcasting standards. Also, manufacturers now have the flexibility to make mid-course product corrections as they enter the as-yet-uncharted territory of certifying and field-testing DOCSIS-compliant products this year.

In the downstream portion of the CN9414 architecture, the chip has a 10-Bit A/D converter and a fifth-generation 64/256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation demodulator that accepts a direct Intermediate Frequency input signal of 36 or 44 MHz. In the upstream direction, the CN9414 includes a Quadrature Phase-Shift Keying /16 QAM burst modulator and a 10-Bit digital/analog converter.

This physical-layer technology, proven in earlier, proprietary Conexant products, is now complemented by forward error correction technology that supports MCNS and DVB in both the receiver and the transmitter.

Other key features include a Universal Asynchronous Receive/Transmit to provide debug and command-line-interface capabilities, and a high-speed Universal Serial Bus transceiver which will make CN9414-based cable modems extremely easy to install and use. Finally, a built-in 100 Mbps Media Independent Interface port will allow the CN9414 to be easily connected to other products such as Conexant's multifunction home-networking solutions.

The CN9414 supports all baseline-privacy specifications and Quality of Service capabilities that are being evaluated for DOCSIS 1.1. This will enable cable operators to offer a variety of tiered services based on access speed. The chip also supports fragmentation, which is a formatting technique that will enable cable operators to support applications such as cable telephony and videoconferencing.

The CN9414 can be implemented in a variety of products, including cable modems with Ethernet and/or USB connections, multifunction home-networking products, set-top-box solutions, Small Office/Home Office equipment and Internet Protocol telephony products.

Conexant has delivered sample quantities of its CN9414 cable-modem chip to its first-tier customers. Broader sampling will begin in May, and volume production is slated for the third calendar quarter of 1999. Manufactured using Conexant's own .25-micron digital CMOS process technology, the CN9414 chip is packaged in a 276 BGA and priced at $45 per unit in OEM quantities of 10,000.

Conexant will provide a full range of development support, starting with an evaluation platform and software-development tools, and eventually including a full reference design as DOCSIS 1.1 specifications solidify and Conexant moves toward volume production.

Conexant Systems is the $1.2 billion company that was created when Rockwell International spun off its semiconductor systems business to shareowners in December 1998. Conexant is the world's largest independent company focused exclusively on providing semiconductor products for communications electronics. For more than 30 years the company has produced mixed-signal processing and communications technology to deliver integrated systems and semiconductor products for a broad range of communications applications. These products facilitate communications worldwide through wireline voice and data communications networks, cordless and cellular wireless telephony systems, personal imaging devices and equipment, and emerging cable and wireless broadband communications networks. The company aligns its business into five product platforms: Personal Computing, Personal Imaging, Wireless Communications, Digital Infotainment, and Network Access.

For more information, call 949/483-6849.
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Publication:Modem User News
Date:Apr 1, 1999
Words:1196
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