International Report

Philips to Expand Wafer Fabrication and Launches CD-ROM Processor

Netherlands contractor Philips Semiconductors is investing an additional $15 M in discrete wafer fabrication at its Nijmegen, Holland plant in order to meet the anticipated demand for fifth-generation wideband RF transistors. Billed as Europe's largest semiconductor plant, the 3000 m2 discrete wafer fabrication is one of five wafer facilities on the Nijmegen site and is involved currently in producing general-purpose broadband transistors, video modules, cellular telephone RF modules/transistors and cellular base station modules.

The new investment programme centres on installing specialised equipment to undertake double-polysilicon processing. The initial installation will comprise layer deposition, thermal annealing and fine-line metallisation machinery, followed by new wafer test facilities and new accommodations for the plant's research, pretesting, quality and reliability control, and marketing departments. Philips Semiconductors is the world's third-largest supplier of discrete semiconductors and has an annual turnover greater than $1 B.

In related news, Philips has launched its model TDA 1388T single-chip bitstream continuous-calibration processor for compact disc-read only memory (CD-ROM) applications in PCs. The device incorporates integrated up-sampling, digital filtering and headphone/line drivers. Channel manipulation features include separate muting on the right and left channels, channel interchange, a bilingual mode, a monaural mode and a monofunction with summed and averaged right and left channels.

The processor also offers separate right- and left-channel volume control, tone control and digital de-emphasis. It accepts both Philips' I2S and Sony's least significant bit-justified audio inputs, and can be controlled using either static pins or via a microcontroller that uses an on-chip, three-line bus interface. The device has a maximum power consumption of 110 mW, a nominal dynamic range of 95 dB, a signal-to-noise ratio of 95 dBA and full-scale distortion values of -85 and -65 dB for line-out and headphones, respectively.

Europe to Retain Thomson

The French government has opted for a trade sale rather than a stock market flotation in its second bid to sell its holding in the Thomson civil and defence electronics group. Currently, the French government holds a 58 percent stake in the group, which comprises the Thomson SA holding company, Thomson Multimedia civil electronics operation and Thomson-CSF defence arm. As of December 1996, Thomson-CSF was scheduled to merge with Matra Defense, the French Lagardére's defense arm, and Thomson Multimedia was to be transferred to South Korea's Daewoo Electronics. However, the French government's privatisation committee backed out of the deal due to grave doubts about Daewoo's financial stability and its ability to guarantee Thomson Multimedia's future adequately in France.

Bidding will be open to European companies only and France will retain an Ffr 12.6 B national golden share. Thomson's employees are also being offered a 10 percent stake in the group. Front runners in this second attempt at privatisation are Alcatel-Alsthom and the original winner Lagardére. Both companies have confirmed their intention to bid with the Alcatel-Alsthom effort likely to be in partnership with the merging French aerospace and defence groups Aérospatiale and Dassault. Lagardére is confident it will be successful in this second sell-off attempt and may bring the UK contractor British Aerospace on board since the companies are involved in joint venture links already.

Tree-like Mast Sets Worldwide Trend

Bowing to environmental concerns, UK mobile telephone provider Orange has unveiled a prototype transmission mast near the town of Cockermouth in the English Lake district. The steel and epoxy resin structure resembles a North American pine tree with the transmission elements hidden amongst the branches. To date, more than 7000 mobile telephone transmission masts have been erected in the UK with that figure expected to double by 2002.

A growing volume of complaints concerning failed connections and/or poor reception quality is fueling this expansion in rural areas particularly where the environmental lobbyists claim the 50- to 80-foot-high masts are an eye sore. Accordingly, three major UK providers -- Orange, Cellnet and Vodafone -- are developing similar masts. The Cockermouth mast is the first of its kind in the UK. Elsewhere, Vodafone's South African sister company Vodacom has developed a palm tree-like mast and the US is developing a cactus-like mast. Feedback in the Cockermouth area has been generally positive.

Cogent Receives RTTS Contracts

Cogent, the professional services business of Northern Telecom, has been awarded two contracts valued at more than £10 M in connection with the UK royal air force's transportable telecommunications system (RTTS). The first contract calls for commercial-off-the-shelf telecommunications systems valued at £6 M and is being supplied as a second tranche of equipment for the RTTS programme. The second £4 M award calls for a specially designed RTTS deployable local area network.

ESA Orders Space Freezer

The Anglo-French joint venture company Matra Marconi Space has received a $2.5 M contract from the European Space Agency (ESA) to supply four flight-rated, -80° MELFI laboratory freezers for use aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Building on the five-time flight success of the company's 1980s vintage BIORACK freezer system, MELFI represents the first space application of a Brayton machine.

Using the Brayton principle, the equipment is based around a central cold box, which includes a compressor, heat exchanger and turbine. The system's central shaft, which rotates at 90,000 revolutions per minute, uses gas-bearing technology for prolonged life and is housed in a replaceable cartridge for easy in-orbit maintenance.

MELFI development will also involve French contractor Air Liquide (cold generation), German companies Kayser Threde (mechanical/electronic systems) and LINDE (cold generation), Swiss contractor ETEL (high speed motor) and the UK's DAMEC (experiment sample containers). As structured currently, the programme calls for three systems to be delivered to the US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and one system to be delivered to the Japanese Space Agency. First flight is scheduled for 1999.

UK Confirms Searchwater Orders

In its capacity as mission system supplier for the UK's replacement maritime patrol aircraft (RMPA), US contractor Boeing Space and Defense has awarded Racal Radar Defence Systems (RRDS) a contract to supply 21 Searchwater 2000MR surveillance radars for use in RMPA's Nimrod 2000. Additional Searchwater 2000 radars are being supplied to the UK's Ministry of Defence for retrofit to the royal navy's fleet of 10 Sea King airborne early-warning helicopters. RRDS is under contract to supply and integrate the new radar and update the aircraft's mission system. RRDS is also providing a logistic support package for the updated aircraft, which is expected to be completed by 2004.