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Commentary: IBM ups the ante in silicon

Big Blue's planned technology takes silicon a step further, allowing more companies to compete in the high-frequency communications applications market.

    By Stan Bruederle, Gartner Analyst

    IBM developed silicon germanium (SiGe) technology more than 15 years ago for use in its mainframe computers. The technology diminished in importance as mainframe technology changed, but IBM then determined that it could be extremely useful for communications applications and began adapting it to that market about five years ago.

    In its current form, SiGe technology is widely used by companies that supply products to the fiber-optic communications and mobile communications markets. It does not compete directly with Intel's new CMOS transistor technology, which is used more for high-performance microprocessors in computers and communications systems.

    The planned technology will compete with indium phosphide technology--mainly offered by Velocium, a compound semiconductor company created by TRW. IBM's SiGe technology also competes with compound semiconductor technology used by companies that make gallium arsenide products for system manufacturers. Such companies include TRW, TriQuint Semiconductor, RF Micro Devices, Alpha Industries, Stanford Microdevices, Hittite Microwave, Raytheon and Motorola.

    Prior to the introduction of SiGe technology, gallium arsenide was considered the primary technology for high-frequency functions. For example, Vitesse Networks used gallium arsenide to make high-performance products for the fiber-optics communications market. SiGe technology made it possible for silicon-based companies, such as Applied Micro Circuits, to compete with Vitesse without having to switch from silicon.

    IBM's planned technology will take silicon another step further in performance. As a result, more companies will be able to compete in the high-frequency communications applications market. Customers will benefit from lower pricing and more innovative products as this market expands.

    See news story:
    IBM turns up the transistor heat
    IBM is expected to make products for the wireless communications and fiber-optic communications markets with its planned technology. The company may also use it for mobile communications applications because it will run at the required performance level with lower power. IBM will also be able to offer LMDS (local multipoint distribution services) products, which require operating speeds of 30 GHz and higher.

    The new technology may extend the stand-by time and talk time of cellular telephones. It may also simplify the task of installing and operating equipment because it needs less power to operate, and this results in fewer cooling requirements.

    IBM's current SiGe technology has speeds of up to 100 GHz, and its newly announced technology will have speeds in excess of 200 GHz. IBM is the first vendor to announce this level of performance. The company has foundry agreements with many companies that supply products in this area and is clearly the leader in bringing to market state-of-the-art technology such as this.

    (For related commentary on how the semiconductor industry did in the first quarter of 2001, see

    Entire contents, Copyright ? 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.