Showing Their Stuff

Broadcom, Atheros Technology tries to get ahead of Intel.

If the WLAN chip market were the 2004 U.S. presidential race, Intel Corp. would be President Bush and everyone else would be the Democratic candidates.

Intels advertising budget for its Centrino chip set dwarfs its competitors budgets. To that end, in separate attacks against Intel, Atheros Communications Inc. and Broadcom Corp. each introduced new wireless chip sets last week that include technology Intel does not yet offer.

Broadcoms two new wireless chip sets were designed with power consumption in mind. The BCM4306 supports 802.11g, which provides data rates up to 54M bps and runs at 2.4GHz, meaning it is backward-compatible with the 802.11b standard, which is slower but more prevalent.

The BCM4309 is dual-band, supporting 802.11g as well as 802.11a, a standard that also supports high data rates but in the less crowded 5GHz range.

Broadcoms new chips will save power so that a notebook running an Intel Pentium M processor and a Broadcom wireless radio will last 20 minutes longer than a notebook running an Intel Centrino wireless chip set, officials said. The BCM430x-M series is available immediately to "early adopter" customers and should appear in notebooks within a few months.

"We absolutely have to stay ahead of Intel in technology in order to be compelling," said Jeff Abramowitz, a spokesman at Broadcom, in Irvine, Calif. "Theres no way to outmarket Intel."

Meanwhile, Atheros last week introduced its own family of wireless chip sets, with focus on power consumption and signal range. Available immediately in volume, the AR5004 chip-set family includes dual-band 802.11a/b/g and single-band 802.11b/g designs and should appear in notebooks within months, said officials at the Sunnyvale, Calif., company.

Atheros new chip sets have a range of up to 790 meters, more than doubling the distance of previous products and helping to eliminate dead spots in large buildings, officials said.

They also include a wake-on-wireless capability that lets IT administrators remotely manage devices on the WLAN (wireless LAN) in the same way they would manage computers on the wired Ethernet, as well as a wake-on-theft feature that alerts the network if a device is removed from the companys facilities when it isnt supposed to be.

Consuming an average of 370 milliamps in transmit mode, 284 in receive mode and 4 in idle mode, the AR5004X is significantly less power-hungry than Intels Centrino chip set, officials said.

Centrino currently supports only 802.11b. The chip set incorporates a Pentium M processor and a wireless radio from Philips Electronics N.V. Customers who want to support 802.11a or 802.11g have the option of buying a Pentium M processor and a radio from a third party, such as Broadcom or Atheros.

However, Intel has plans for Centrino chip sets that incorporate the other standards. An 802.11a/b Centrino initially was due this quarter but has been delayed until next quarter. An 802.11b/g Centrino is due by years end, according to Intel officials, in Santa Clara, Calif.

An 802.11a/b/g Centrino chip set is due next year, and Broadcom and Atheros could lose market share to Intel when the Centrino arrives.

"One of our top three customers is saying OK, Atheros, were going to use your g but only until Intel comes out with theirs," said Craig Barratt, president and CEO of Atheros. "Our challenge is to make the differences matter to the customer. If they dont matter, then Intel will take over the space."

Intel officials declined to divulge the marketing budget for Centrino. But upon launching Centrino, Intel announced that the chip sets marketing campaign will be at least as much as the campaign for the Pentium 3 chip, and that campaign cost $300 million.

"Naturally, though, we work with different customers in different ways," said Barbara Grimes, a spokeswoman for Intel. "For example, with some we do straightforward testing and validation; with others we may collaborate to increase Wi-Fi awareness, while still others may do joint infrastructure enabling."