Broadening Chip Markets

By Eric Griffith

June 01, 2004

Leading Wi-Fi chipmakers Broadcom and Atheros have made announcements today that each hopes will get them major play in different areas of wireless.

Leading Wi-Fi chipmakers Broadcom Corp. and Atheros Communications have made announcements today that each hopes will get them major play in different areas of the wireless market.

Atheros worked with Sigma Designs and Syabas to create new reference designs that would put wireless into DVD players and digital media adapters. The companies are showing the designs this week at a trade show in Taipei.

The first is the Envision 8550W for low-cost media play over a home network; the second offering is the Envision 8620WL, a higher-end design with support for HDTV quality video playback over wireless. Both will use the Atheros AR5004AP-X and AR5004X dual-band chipsets with Atheros' Super AG speed boost technology. The designs use software from Syabas and the digital media processor chip from Sigma. Atheros expects to see products based on the designs for sale by the third quarter of this year -- just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Top competitor Broadcom, on the other hand, is staying with the tried and true home wireless router market for its latest announcement of a router system-on-a-chip.

Called the AirForce BCM5350 with Sentry5, the product will combine 802.11g wireless with 10/100Mbps Fast Ethernet support, an integrated MIPS processor, and a virtual private network (VPN) acceleration engine in some configurations.

"It's pretty much as integrated a solution as you can get on [the router/gateway] side of the market," says Rahul Patel, senior product line manager at Broadcom.

Patel says this chipset will have all the features needed in routers for consumers on up to small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) -- configurations will vary as needed.

The combination of features on one circuit board will reduce the size of the router and its power consumption, says Patel. Vendors who make Wi-Fi hardware will be able to use the chipset to scale easily from 2 ports to 5 ports for Ethernet (using Broadcom's RoboSwitch), and add or subtract other features, such as VPN acceleration, as needed. The product will support various other technologies like VLAN, spanning tree, SNMP, 802.1X authentication, and even 802.11e/Quality of Service.

Security will include hardware accelerated AES and Broadcom's new Secure EZ Setup software Wizard. Using the company's Xpress framebursting speed boost, products using the BCM5350 will be rated for a 125Mbps "High Speed Mode" (currently available in products from Buffalo Technology that use Broadcom's chips).

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