International Business Machines Corp. plans to introduce on Friday an improvement to a microchip manufacturing process that it says will allow for the production of faster silicon devices for cellular handsets and other communications devices.

In a statement released late on Thursday, the world's largest computer company said it would begin offering customers its fourth rendition of a manufacturing technique that adds traces of germanium into chips made of silicon, the building block of electronics.

IBM said it invented the silicon germanium process more than a decade ago, and has been improving it ever since. By adding the element to silicon -- a process known as doping -- the chip can operate at a faster clip. That boost is especially useful for radio communications devices, which need to modulate rapidly.

The Armonk, New York-based company said the process will allow chips to operate at speeds of 200 gigahertz, or 200 billion cycles per second. That speed will help enable advanced communications technologies, including, it said, collision-avoidance radar for automobiles.

Silicon germanium remains a small part of the overall chip industry, with annual sales of around $1.6 billion. Doping silicon with germanium is an alteration to the standard chip manufacturing process -- known as CMOS, or complementary metal oxide semiconductor.

IBM, whose semiconductor unit also manufactures chips designed by other companies, said the new silicon germanium process will be available immediately to customers.

It listed two companies -- Sierra Monolithics, a maker of long-range wireless data communications devices, and Tektronix, a maker of electronic measurement and monitoring tools -- as users of the process.


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