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Does Intel broadband sat deal cut out NatSemi?

An AOL, Hughes, Intel triple alliance seems to be brewing...

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Was that rending noise the sound of Chipzilla eating NatSemi's lunch? Earlier this year Hughes, AOL and friends announced AOL TV, and NatSemi happily announced that it would be supplying the MediaGX chips for the set-top boxes. Now Intel and Hughes Networks have announced that Intel will be supplying the Pentium chips for the, er, AOL TV set-top boxes. From the announcement it isn't entirely clear that NatSemi's contract is now toast, but it obviously doesn't look good. Hughes and Intel propose to collaborate on the design of a range of set-top boxes based on Pentium MMX and other Intel technology, and Intel has licensed DirecPC technology from Hughes, and the pair add happily that the alliance "will take advantage of satellite's unique 'broadband anywhere' capabilities to provide new interactive services for consumers across the continental United States. Regrettably Yankocentric, as so often, and in this case wrong. Hughes satellite broadband is also available in Europe via a jv with those nice people at Olivetti, and in the Far East via (apparently, last time we looked) some bloke in Tokyo. The Hughes-Intel deal does look somewhat firmer than anything NatSemi produced at the time of the AOL TV announcement, but does that mean NatSemi's out of the game? The previous plan for hardware had NatSemi supplying the chips, Philips the manufacturing and NCI (now Liberate) the reference design. AOL has money in NCI/Liberate, so wouldn't want to stiff it too badly. Not before the IPO, anyway. But wheels within wheels. By a happy coincidence AOL has invested $1.5 billion in Hughes, so they're obviously still close buddies, and the possibility of a nightmare triumvirate looms. The more paranoid among you might also care to lob a couple of other matters into the picture. Intel is busy on system-on-chip designs based on Pentium technology, and is working on stealing some more of NatSemi's lunch with a WebPad-type design. AOL has "AOL Anywhere" plans, and is no doubt talking to both Intel and NatSemi about dinky devices you could use to wander round the house while surfing the Web. It's beginning to look like Intel will get the contract. ®

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