Intel acquired SiPort maker of Digital Radio Silicon

June 3, 2011, 9:47 a.m.
Sam Rosen, Vice President, Consumer

Intel acquired the key HD Radio chipset manufacturer, SiPort last week (5/25). The letter to customers assures continuity of supply through the transition period. In our Digital Radio Report last year, we published the following profile of SiPort:

SiPort is a fabless semiconductor startup based in Silicon Valley with venture capital funding from companies including Intel Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners. SiPort creates a single-chip RF and baseband digital radio receiver chip. SiPort is the leading manufacturer of silicon for portable HD Radio implementations in the United States, with a total of one million units shipped from late 2008 until June 2010. The Microsoft Zune’s radio receiver and the Insignia HD01 are based on SiPort’s silicon. SiPort also provides silicon to PNDs, which receive data services for live weather and traffic information.

SiPort’s SP1010 receiver uses an RF CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) manufacturing process to achieve low power and high integration. SP1010 uses less than 100 mW of power, enabling long battery life. SiPort provides silicon to LG Innotek’s HD Radio modules, which go into home A/V receivers, PNDs, and PMPs (Personal Media Players).

The SiPort IP will likely find its way into more integrated solutions – which will increase the ease of including HD Radio into all the devices we already use. In the vast scheme of things, a Radio receiver is a small bit of silicon and with smaller electronics depending on higher levels of integration it is more economical to put it together with larger silicon.

According to the announcement, “digital radio is poised to become an important ingredient for handsets and other mobile devices …”. That implies that this is a move to add digital radios into cellular baseband silicon, based on the recent Infineon Wireless acquisition. However, to do only that would spell the end of HD Radio. HD Radio’s current (slow) traction in the US has come first from automotive and second from CE devices, such as high end A/V receivers. The situation in Europe with DAB (which SiPort also supports) is somewhat different with tabletop models dominating a much faster transition, driven by DAB’s pressure for analog shutoff (ASO) that HD Radio’s In-Band on Channel (IBOC) does not have.

Therefore, Intel would be wise to also put this digital radio receiver into Atom products targeted at Automotive and In Vehicle Entertainment, as well as to continue supporting it as standalone silicon for other products. If they fail to do that, and instead make it harder for other manufacturers to get standalone chips for integration into products with other manufacturers’ SoCs (as Intel is not today market share leader in automotive), the void in receiver only solutions could spell the end of HD Radio.