Cramming In All That Wi-Fi

By Eric Griffith

April 19, 2004

Chipmaker Marvell says its new platfrom can put multiple wireless functions into a small device that previously could only handle one feature at a time.

Semiconductor maker Marvell of Sunnyvale, Calif., makers of the Libertas line of wireless chips, has unveiled a platform featuring a system-on-a-chip (SoC) that puts multiple wireless functions into a single device.

Marvell calls its new technology All-into-1. The first release of the platform includes a reference design Marvell created called 5-in-1 that would allow a small piece of hardware to feature access point functions, a repeater mode, Ethernet-to-wireless bridging for clients like computers and game consoles, and point-to-point and point-to-multipoint bridging to connect separate networks. The hardware would be about the size of a credit card but at a centimeter in thickness -- enough to feature an Ethernet jack. The hardware could be customized in plastics of any size or shape by Marvell's OEM customers (Marvell will not be making any end user products based on these designs).

Don't look for full-feature services from the various modes of the 5-in-1 says James Chen, Marvell's product marketing manager for wireless LAN products. For example, the embedded AP is really meant for personal use -- Marvell expects it to be big with business travelers, who can plug it into a broadband connection at a hotel, for example, and create a room-only WLAN.

The repeater and bridges also won't support the standard Wireless Distribution System (WDS). "There's issues with WDS," says Chen, "most notably that from vendor to vendor its pretty proprietary in nature -- a Linksys repeater will only repeat a Linsksy router." Using a patent pending technology, Chen says Marvell's built in repeater function will work with "any wireless gateway or AP out there."

The All-into-1 tech combines the SoC with Marvell's own Wireless Interconnect System Engine (WISE), a baseband chip, a CPU and a 10/100 Ethernet jack. It will support 802.11g/b, using the Marvell Libertas 11g chip. The various features can be turned on or off by the OEM who licenses the technology -- so if someone wants to sell just a point-to-point/point-to-multipoint bridge in that form factor, that's an option.

The first 5-in-1 product has been licensed to be made by OEM Asustek Computer, a company best known for selling computer parts like motherboards. Asus already makes a small 802.11b-based AP called the Pocket Wireless that uses a Marvell chipset -- and multiple modes for AP, clients, and repeater (with WDS). No word on when new Asus products will ship or which of the five features they'll be using. Chen guesses that even with all five turned on, the product would be priced at under $100 for consumers.

Reference designs for the 5-in-1 are available to other customers as well. Chen says in the future the company will add more features to offer as many as 10 modules, including things like limited router functionality and more advanced self-configuration for the device.

"Usability is very important," says Chen. "People are just starting to realize that key setup issues can impact the end user. We've learned from customers, and our customer's customers, they don't have the time to be educated.... they want to turn it on and have it work."



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