The global technology industry is in a slump. Some Asian electronics and IT companies are slowly and painfully bearing with the slowdown while others are taking a wait-and-see attitude for signs to develop new products. But one company that is still bent on capitalizing on the forthcoming upturn is Aztech Systems Ltd.
Having diversified away from its original business of making PCs and sound cards, the company today is making a mark in the Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) business, dominated by big-name companies like Alcatel. Aztech is succeeding thanks to a strategy of working with a variety of DSL controller chipmakers.
"Such a strategy," says Tony Tan, head of the company's Research & Development unit, "differs sharply from the strategies of our global multinational competitors." He points out that the larger companies tend to have an internal microelectronics division that designs the chips, and a systems division that embeds them into products for the end user. Hence, the chip designers from the microelectronics division generally use the products designed internally.
Conversely, Tan says Aztech looks at the controller's functionality and its interoperability with the various drivers. How user friendly the end product is likely to be when choosing these controllers is also a factor, he adds.
Network ready. Aztech executed this strategy with U.S.-based Centillium Communications Inc. by incorporating the company's Optimizer DSL into its own DSL Turbo 865U. The key advantage was that Centillium had the best chip for an end product destined for the Japanese market, Tan explains.
A second advantage cited by Tan is that the controller is designed using a high level of system integration to the chipset technology, reducing chip count to just two devices. This, in turn, lowers the system bill-of-materials count and cost, reduces size and power dissipation, and increases portability. Furthermore, Tan points out that the Centillium chip uses USB port, which helps solve a critical installation and support problem for DSL service providers. The USB interface eases the deployment of DSL modems by eliminating the need for lengthy installation procedures or opening up the PC.
The DSL Turbo 865U is starting to make its way into commercial production to meet the needs of the Japanese market.
Features based. Similarly, Aztech broke new ground with Conexant Systems Inc. through the use of its Access Runner chipset solution in the Aztech DSL Turbo 300P modem. The challenge here was different, says Tan, adding that designers would not find it too difficult to develop a PCI-based modem.
"We were looking for a chipset which will allow adding a lot of features, as well as reduce the cost from the manufacturing side," he says. "While there are a lot of suppliers in this space, using the Access Runner enabled the modem to switch between narrow and broadband as well as add about 10% more features found in competing modems."
Tan says that sourcing for chips from a variety of vendors had also enabled it to enter corporate markets, i.e. designing products for corporate users. By using the Helium chipset from Virata Corp., Aztech built the DSL Turbo 900E, ADSL modems which operate with Ethernet interface cards.
"Virata has a strong foundation in firmware, which enabled us to go into the router space. Their software specifications were their key strength," says Tan.
Looking ahead, Tan says that apart from enhancing the functionality of existing products through the use of more advanced chipsets in future products, there's also a future for these chipsets in set-top boxes, which can be deployed in the entertainment and Internet gaming marketplace.
"How fast we come up with a product will depend on our ability to select the best chip supplier," he says.