Broadcom Preps One-Chip 802.11b

The company said its forthcoming AirForce OneChip wireless component reduces operating power by two orders of magnitude compared with its current offering.

Broadcom Corp. has designed its first single-chip 802.11b wireless component, reducing the operating power by two orders of magnitude compared with its current generation.

The printed circuit board used by Broadcoms new AirForce OneChip 802.11b component measures only 392 sqare mm, roughly one-tenth the size of Broadcoms current 802.11b solution, the company said.

Consolidating the number of components on a WLAN module or other device is a natural offshoot of Moores Law and some skilled engineering. However, the smaller form factor will allow 802.11b components to be built into more portable devices, such as cell phones, while signaling to OEMs that more sophisticated 802.11g and hybrid components are on their way. Moreover, Broadcom can stay a step ahead of the inevitable price wars that threaten margins as more players enter the field.

To customers, the most meaningful implication of the shrinkage is not only the power consumed by the chip, but also its manufacturing cost and selling price. "What used to be two chips plus 200 (off-chip) components becomes one chip and 17 (off-chip) components," said Jeff Abramowitz, Broadcom senior director of marketing for WLAN products.

Abramowitz said Irvine, Calif.-based Broadcom will continue to manufacture the chips on a 0.18-micron process, the most-cost-effective manufacturing technology available. The number of components that could be produced by a shift to 0.13 microns or below doesnt justify the per-wafer cost, he said.

Customers will ship their first end products beginning late in the fourth quarter, Abramowitz said.

Broadcoms current 802.11b solution consumes 600 milliwatts of power; the new module consumes just 6 milliwatts. "Its the difference between the battery that goes dead in 30 minutes and the battery that lasts all day," Baramowitz said. "Furthermore, we recognized that a cell-phone battery is a hundredth the power of a laptop battery."

Meanwhile, the company is working on single-chip 802.11a and 802.11g products; Broadcom has already produced a single-chip Bluetooth component. "Truth be told, however, the integration is far more complicated" for the more advanced 802.11 devices, Abramowitz said.

Previous versions of 802.11b components left the radio and power amplifier off chip; it was connected to the baseband processor via a proprietary interface. Broadcoms solution leaves the static PROM offchip, as well as the timing crystal. "Theres not many players who even own all three components," Abramowitz said.