Airgo Chips Boost WLAN Speed, Range

New chip technologies from Airgo and Atheros aim to break the current throughput and transmission distance barriers in WLANs.

New chip technologies from Airgo Networks Inc. and Atheros Communications Inc. aim to break the current throughput and transmission distance barriers in WLANs.

Based on our work with prior wireless LAN chip technology, eWEEK Labs expects these chips to add significant cost to the first round of WLAN vendors devices, but prices should drop on subsequent generations of products, as application support and security issues—among other challenges—are resolved.

IT managers should keep an eye on the first products to incorporate these chip sets, which are likely to hit the market late this year or in early 2004.

Airgo, a startup wireless chip-set vendor in Palo Alto, Calif., last month announced the availability of its chip set, the AGN100. In company testing, Airgos new chip set not only supports current 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g modes but also extends connectivity to 108M bps and enables a range of more than 150 feet, Airgo officials said.

The Airgo chip set will also work with the 802.11i security draft specification and 802.11e QOS (quality-of- service) draft specifications from the IEEE.

The AGN100 chip set increases the range of wireless communications over current Wi-Fi offerings, which are limited to approximately 150 feet. Based on Airgos tests, the AGN100 exhibits data transmission ranges of two to six times farther compared with wireless chip sets on the market today.

Airgo provides significant wireless enhancements in its AGN100 chip set, using a smart antenna signal- processing technology called MIMO (multiple input/ multiple output) that was developed by researchers at Bell Labs. Airgo is the first vendor to integrate MIMO technology for wireless communications, officials said.

MIMO signal processing links radio signals by using several antennas at the transmitter and the receiver ends. These antennas provide a spatial dimension that can be exploited to improve the performance of the wireless data transmissions beyond the limits of conventional methods.

With higher throughput and range, this new breed of WLAN system can potentially offer enterprises better coverage and lower costs because it requires fewer access points. Faster WLANs also allow enterprises to roll out applications via wireless networks. Wireless deployments dont work as well under current Wi-Fi speed and coverage limitations.

This new technology will also have many applications in the consumer space. High-speed wireless data connections will be very useful for home appliances and entertainment systems, such as high-definition television and TiVo-style personalized programming. This is because streaming video data will require more bandwidth than traditional Wi-Fi, and high-speed wireless technology is necessary to enable these applications to run using WLANs.

Airgos MIMO technology implementation will also be a leading candidate as a standard for future IEEE speed increase drafts, such as 802.11n. The draft for 802.11n is currently far from final but is designed to take Wi-Fi networks beyond 100M-bps speed.

As with any new wireless technology, however, application support, security and wireless issues, such as QOS and roaming support, have to be ironed out before Airgo can bask in corporate acceptance. Officials said the company is working to get compatible card-bus/PCI adapters and access points out the door this fall.

Atheros and Intersil Corp. are also in the vanguard of developing new WLAN chip technologies. Atheros has announced faster throughput modes in its chip sets that allow WLAN transmissions to go beyond 54M bps.

The companys Super G and Super A/G provide 108M-bps throughput using compression, bursting and modulation technologies. The company claims the Super A/G can deliver 90M bps of TCP/IP throughput, providing backward compatibility to 802.11a/g—the enhancements can be activated via software upgrades of current hardware.

Intersils Prism Nitro chip set, announced in the spring, can improve 802.11g throughput by as much as 50 percent in homogeneous 802.11g networks, company officials claim.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu