Two wireless chip makers are readying single-chip Wi-Fi offerings designed to lower the cost and power consumption of WLAN clients.
Broadcom Corp. is planning this week to unveil its AirForce OneChip, the first single-chip Wi-Fi product. It integrates a 2.4GHz 802.11b radio, power amplifier, base-band processor and media access controller on the same chip.
Atheros Communications Inc. has plans for a similar offering slated for the first half of next year.
About the size of a dime, the AirForce OneChip consumes an average of 70 percent less power than Intel Corp.s Centrino chip set in transmit mode, 80 percent less in receive mode and 97 percent less in standby mode, according to Broadcom officials, in Irvine, Calif.
The chip also requires 85 percent fewer WLAN (wireless LAN) module components than previous Broadcom chip sets, which should reduce costs for device manufacturers.
Handheld computer users say the power issue has been hampering their WLAN activity. “Power consumption is the Achilles heel of Wi-Fi on handhelds,” said Jorge Abellas-Martin, CIO of Arnold Worldwide Inc., an advertising agency in Boston. “We have limited experience [with Hewlett-Packard Co.s] iPaqs using CompactFlash cards from D-Link [Systems Inc.] and 3Com [Corp.] PCMCIA cards on the PCMCIA add-on sleeve. With either combo, the iPaq would fully discharge in 1 to 2 hours—not a useful life span.”
“Larger-form-factor [Windows] CE devices such as the Honeywell [International Inc.] WebPad that I have in my office would last 3 hours when the Wi-Fi was used extensively, as when browsing the Web,” said Abellas-Martin, who is also an eWEEK Corporate Partner. “I think the more interesting application would be for a Wi-Fi-enabled cell phone that would switch over to VOIP [voice over IP] in the office or home. You could truly have a single handset.”
Broadcom officials said thats exactly what their customers, device makers, have in mind. Officials declined to name licensees but said the chip should appear in Pocket PC devices by December and in VOIP/cell phones, cameras, MP3 players and possibly cars within a couple of years. Broadcom plans to release versions of OneChip that support 802.11g and 802.11a/g in the future, but officials would not give a time frame.
The AirForce OneChip will cost about $13 in units of 10,000.
Meanwhile, Broadcom competitor Atheros has power-saving product plans of its own.
“Its obviously a natural evolution to go from two chips down to one,” said Craig Barratt, president and CEO of Atheros, in Sunnyvale, Calif. He added that both Atheros and Broadcom use all-CMOS transceivers, which makes it easier to pare down the size of the products.
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Atheros single-chip solutions, due in the first half of next year, will support 802.11g and 802.11a/g, Barratt said.
Meanwhile, Atheros next week plans to unveil a new generation of WLAN components. While not single-chip, they will consume less power than the companys previous chip set—as few as 4 milliamps in standby mode, Barratt said.
The new chip sets focus on distance, more than doubling the range of 802.11a and 802.11g signals. They also include a “wake-on wireless” capability that lets IT administrators remotely manage devices on the WLAN the same way they would manage computers on wired Ethernet.
Intel, for its part, has not publicized power consumption on its Centrino road map, which calls for a chip set that supports 802.11g by the end of the year. However, the companys Radio Free Intel campaign is all about consolidating silicon.
“Our ultimate vision is that every piece of silicon has a radio in it,” said Dan Francisco, a spokesman for Intel, in San Jose, Calif. He added that this wont happen for years.
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