2020 via time machine: chips, devices, & tech

At the IEEE Technology Time Machine Symposium last week I listened to the world’s leading academics, engineers, executives, and government officials project what the world will look like in 2020. The future brings technology together for everything from enhancing the human experience to improving environmental sustainability.

With Private Equity Looming, Infineon CEO Resigns

Infineon Technologies, a Neubiberg, Germany-based company that was recently in the news for allegedly winning a deal to supply chips for the new 3G iPhone, has announced that CEO Wolfgang Ziebart is leaving due to a disagreement with the company and its board of directors. EETimes Europe first reported about Ziebart’s exit.

What seems to be the problem? He didn’t want to sell a big portion of the company to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., a private equity firm that then wants to merge Infineon with its other chip holding, NXP Semiconductors, formerly Phillips Semiconductor. (Someone had earlier argued for a three way deal between Infineon, STMicro and NXP.) Infineon is part of an older guard of chip companies that are caught in the whirlpool of shifts currently taking place in the sector. In addition to Infineon, others in the old guard that seem to be wheezing right now are NXP, STMicro and FreeScale; Broadcom, on the other hand, seems to be leaping ahead.

Virtualization Goes Mobile With VirtualLogix

Motorola Ventures today put an undisclosed amount of money into Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup VirtualLogix, which aims to do for communications equipment and mobile devices what VMware has done for the server. I’m pretty leery of companies throwing around the v-word, but with its take on virtualization, VirtualLogix is actually creating value.

For proof, check out the plans for a sub-$100 multimedia 3G phone developed by Purple Labs using NXP chips running VirtualLogix’s software. The software allows a processor to run a rich operating system on the same chip that controls the baseband access. (In a typical smartphone — depending on the applications and radios needed — this takes two or more chips.) The end result is a high-end feature on a low-end phone using fewer chips. That’s excellent for device makers, but VirtualLogix counts among its investors TI and Intel, two companies that want to sell more chips.

VirtualLogix CEO Peter Richards explained this contrast away by saying the chip vendors just want to make customers happier. But while that may be true, what’s really behind the chip firms’ interest is VirtualLogix’s ability to take software written for single-core chips and run it on multicore chips by virtualizing the multicore hardware. Multicore chips aren’t in phones right now, but given how much we want our handheld devices to do, they will be.

The other beneficiary of virtualizing a communications device is the gear market, where VirtualLogix customers such as Alcatel-Lucent are using the software to combine multiple products, like call routing servers, call management servers, etc., into one box rather than four or five. Virtualization as offered by VMware and Xen is creating a lot of savings by allowing companies to reduce the number of servers they use in data centers, so it stands to reason that it can do the same in the telecommunications world.

2008: Year Of The Location Based Services?

gramingps.jpgAmericans are buying global positioning systems (GPS) for their cars in large numbers, reports AdAge. The NPD Group says that revenues are up 214% and GPS unit sales up a whopping 488% over last year.

The M&A activity in the sector is on an upswing, and the primary driver being location-based and mapping services on the mobile phones, the latest being NXP Semiconductors’ $85 million buyout of GloNav.

As new network-enabled Dash devices and more mobile phones come to market in 2008, next 12 months will see an upswing in news and noise around location-based services. At least I think so. Any thoughts?