National Semi Takes on Bluetooth with Low-Power Wi-Fi

A new low-power wireless technology unveiled this week could expand the use of Wi-Fi in devices currently using the Bluetooth standard, National Semiconductor officials said.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Researchers at National Semiconductor Corp. said the company has developed a system-level Wi-Fi solution that could cut into the market share of wireless peripherals based on the Bluetooth standard.

National, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has reached first-silicon stage for a technology that could "significantly" reduce the power requirements of 802.11 wireless cards, according to Dr. Ahmad Bahai, a National fellow and chief technology officer for the companys wireless and information appliance group.

Although Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless were initially considered competitors for portable devices and peripherals, Bluetooth has come into its own for two reasons according to attendees at the Bluetooth Americas 2003 expo here this week: the ability to form ad hoc networks, and that Bluetooth devices consume far less power than comparable Wi-Fi.

Bahai expects that equation could change with the introduction of Nationals low-power Wi-Fi technology.

"There is quite a bit of overlap with Bluetooth right now," Bahai said. "The cost of silicon for wireless and Bluetooth are very close. Now that a [Wi-Fi] wireless LAN has more potential for higher data rates and a lot more potential for power savings, it will cause a lot more problems for Bluetooth down the road."

While Intel Corp. and others have attempted to shrink digital circuitry and integrate external components to save cost, Nationals traditional expertise has been in analog circuitry, Bahai said. Very few companies can focus their resources on the individual chips, the system, as well as the network, he said, and look at them all as a unified whole. National is also looking at a means to enhance the quality of service protocols, especially where battery-powered Wi-Fi devices are concerned, Bahai said. National will pursue both technology enhancements that conform with existing standards, and work to develop future enhancements to existing standards, such as IEEE 802.11e, he said.

Still, National has yet to commit to developing a product based on this technology, Bahai said. He declined to release specifics of the solution until it is made public.

At this point, National is exploring the "market opportunities," Bahai said, and the reactions of key wireless firms that could license the technology. "Were moving toward commodity status," Bahai said. "Theres a lot of room for embedded solutions, and a lot remaining to be explored."