WLAN Chips Branch Out

Broadcom and Atheros compete to deliver WLAN chip sets for small, low-cost devices.

Two competing vendors are prepping products aimed at delivering high-end WLAN features in smaller, lower-cost devices.

Broadcom Corp. announced a new processor that combines the functions of a wireless LAN with those of an Ethernet switch.

The Broadcom BCM5350 with Sentry5 is meant to fit into wireless routers in small businesses and enterprise branch offices, said company officials in Irvine, Calif.

The system on a chip combines WLAN routing with Fast Ethernet switching, in addition to several security features.

The product includes a MIPS32 processor, a VPN accelerator, an 802.11g radio and support for 10/100M-bps Ethernet switching using technology from Broadcoms RoboSwitch family. The unit eliminates the need for multiple components and should lower the cost and size of the end product, officials said.

The BCM5350 supports the Wi-Fi Alliances WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) protocol and will be upgradable to support upcoming WPA2 and 802.11i protocols, both of which support AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). Furthermore, the built-in VPN accelerator takes some of the load off the MIPS32 processor, officials said.

"Offloading a function so you dont have to spin the main CPU cycle is always a good idea," said Kevin Baradet, chief technology officer at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "If they can add it in and do it inexpensively, that should help the cause."

Broadcom has yet to announce licensees or pricing. However, company officials said the price of a router using the new chip would be approximately $170. Routers running the BCM5350 are expected next quarter, officials said.

Meanwhile, Atheros Communications Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., unveiled a WLAN chip-set-design partnership with Sigma Designs Inc., of Milpitas, Calif., and Syabas Technology Inc., of Fremont, Calif. Last week, at the Computex conference in Taipei, Taiwan, the three companies introduced reference designs for chip sets that will fit into digital media adapters and DVD players. This will let devices send audio and video wirelessly.

The Envision 8550W and 8620LW boards use chip sets from Atheros that support the 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g WLAN standards, meaning they can operate in both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz radio bands. The 5GHz band is less crowded, making it better suited technically for video streaming, but most existing WLAN equipment operates in the 2.4GHz band.

The reference designs are available now to original design manufacturers. Licensees have yet to be announced, but officials at Atheros said Wi-Fi-enabled DVD players and other digital equipment should become available this year.

Wireless multimedia and video applications are a growing focus for Atheros.

"In the next six months, there will be a lot going on in that space," said Craig Barratt, CEO of Atheros.


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