Fri, Mar 07, 2003 - Page 10 News List

VIA purchases Swedish design center

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY In an effort to increase its wireless-communications research capabilities, the local computer manufacturer has decided to buy Acreo AB

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

VIA Technologies Inc's (威盛電子) purchase on Wednesday of a design center in Sweden should give the company a leg up on its competitors in a key area of wireless communications, analysts said yesterday.

Wireless communication is a hot technology item that allows computers and mobile phones to connect to the Internet without wires.

VIA established the wireless communications design center in 2001 with Swedish microelectronics institute Acreo AB in the city of Lund -- where Ericsson AB designed its first mobile-phone handset. The team currently employs a team of 16 engineers.

"There are very few engineers working on radio frequency technology in Taiwan, so VIA had to get this technology from overseas" said Nathan Lin (林宗賢), an analyst at SinoPac Securities Corp (建華證券). "Once VIA obtains the technology, it will be the first or second company in Taiwan to provide a radio frequency integrated circuit, enhancing the company's position in the market."

Radio frequency transmission is a key element in sending data wirelessly from the Internet to mobile phones and computers.

Acreo AB is strong in radio-frequency technology. "This is an ongoing project that was originally announced two years ago," Gaynor de Wit, senior marketing specialist at VIA, said yesterday. "It's now up and running and they're working on [wireless chip] technology."

De Wit refused to reveal how much VIA invested in the project.

In 2000, the Swedish government set up Socware, a US$23 million initiative to attract overseas manufacturing and design companies to invest in the local broadband and wireless industry. Current investors include South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co, the US-based Agilent Technologies Inc, and Singapore's Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd (特許半導體).

The government-funded Industrial Technology Research Institute is also a partner in the initiative.

"We saw that there is a lot of synergy between Taiwan and Sweden," Socware head Rolf Rising said. "Taiwan has the expertise in back-end chip design and Sweden has the expertise in system technology."

In the key area of broadband and wireless-system design, the Swedish government has a US$12 million cost-sharing fund available to companies that set up research and design centers. VIA is eligible for money from this fund, Rising said, but did not say how much.

Tommy Skoog, project manager of the Lund center, said that the center had received a 30-percent subsidy from the government, but he also refused to reveal the value of the amount.

VIA and Acreo are likely to continue to cooperate on developing new technologies.

"We hope we will have more business together in the future, and are right now working on wireless CDMA and local network technology," he said.

In the last two years, VIA has broadened its product line to include complete computing systems instead of merely supplying computer components.

"VIA has said that in the future the PC will not be the driving force of the technology industry, but connectivity will," said John Leong, a chip-industry analyst at Deutsche Bank in Taipei. "Wireless communication and multimedia are key."

To develop new wireless communication chips, VIA has a two-pronged approach, "partly by in-house research and development, partly by acquisition [of intellectual property]," de Wit said.

The strategy seems to be paying off. VIA launched a series of low-cost mini-PCs last year, which are now available from Wal-Mart Stores Inc in the US for US$199. At next week's CeBIT 2003 computer trade show in Hannover, Germany, the company will launch a series of new computer designs and wireless devices, showcased in a kitchen/living-room/study display.

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