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As EchoStar Communications Corp. pursues its pending merger with DirecTV, leading silicon vendors including STMicroelectronics, LSI Logic and Broadcom are maneuvering for a $3 billion lottery ticket: the war chest EchoStar has reportedly set aside to link the two operators' incompatible satellite infrastructures.

For set-top IC makers accustomed to eking out new business in tandem with the modest growth of satellite and cable subscribers, the proposed merger - which is likely to close later this year - represents a potential windfall.

"We are expecting a strong replacement market for set-tops in 2003, through the merger of . . . [EchoStar's] Dish Network and DirecTV," Phillippe Geyres, corporate vice president for the consumer and microcontroller groups at STMicroelectronics, said at the company's recent analysts' meeting in London.

While EchoStar is closely guarding its technology wish list, intense negotiations over the past few weeks with several leading chip companies hinted that the combination of two emerging technologies - 8PSK modulation and turbo coding - will likely be pivotal in the transition to the converged infrastructure.

LSI Logic Corp. and STMicroelectronics say they have 8PSK devices in hand. ST has already implemented turbo coding, Conexant Systems Inc. and Broadcom Corp. are among those said to have samples of such devices, and LSI Logic says that it too is developing turbo-coding silicon.

Japan's digital satellite market is the only one that now implements 8PSK, a higher-resolution form of modulation than the quadrature phase-shift keying (QPSK) used in the current generation of satellite modulation. "QPSK transponders can deliver about 50 Mbits/second of data; 8PSK can deliver about 80 Mbits/s of data," said Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst for Cahners In-Stat Group.

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