Atheros Goes Multimedia with MIMO

By Eric Griffith

July 21, 2004

The latest from the Wi-Fi chipmaker targets the future market for wireless video transport, and is the first from the company to use multiple antennas.

Sampling to customers today -- but months from production or actual products -- Atheros Communications announced this week a new chip targeting products that will transport multimedia and video over wireless. It's also the company's first chip to use smart antenna technology.

According to Atheros, the AR5005VA chipset will be capable of sustaining several DVD-quality video links on a wireless network simultaneously. The chip will support all the Wi-Fi types by being dual-band 802.11a/b/g, and will have full support for pre-draft 802.11e Quality of Service (a specification expected to be ratified by the end of this year).

"We've created extra support for reliable, jitter-free video," says president and CEO Craig Barratt. "End-to-end, you want very precise timing and control. The arrival time of video frames could cause artifacts [in the picture]." He says the AR5005VA handles this.

This is the first Atheros product to support multiple antenna technology of any kind. This is generally called MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) in the industry, but Barratt shies away from calling it that, preferring the term "multiple antenna." He calls it the most important technical innovation of the chip and says it will "adaptively enhance the signal you care about," using beam forming to improve the wireless link. Atheros's name for its multiple antenna tech is "Vlocity."

Barratt says "smart antenna technology is more focused on the robustness of range... it doesn't matter if you can get high throughput if you can only go three feet. Peak data rate is just a red herring for the user."

Barratt says that this is the first multiple antenna product that is entirely standards compliant. However, he points out that this chip's use of multiple antennas shouldn't be considered "pre-802.11n," although he does say that it will work with the high-throughput standard whenever it is ready in a few years. Atheros is part of the TGn Sync group, headed by competitor Agere, that is making one of the many proposals to the IEEE on what it feels the 802.11n specification should require. MIMO is one aspect of that proposal.

The AR5005VA chip also has glueless interface to connect to companion chipsets from other vendors. This allows Atheros to concentrate on the transport of video, while partners' chips will handle the encoding and decoding of video. One partner, NEC Electronics, is already doing a demonstration with the AR5005VA at this week's Expo Comm Wireless Japan 2004 show, showing it working with an NEC MPEG2 board. Other announced partners include ATI, ESS, and Sigma Designs. The chip also includes an infrared modulator so it can be used with IR remote control units in products like set top boxes and DVD players.

Atheros is sampling the AR5055VA now to select customers, and expects production in the fourth quarter of this year. Cost will be based on the number of antennas (two or four) used, but the four antenna chip is expected to be under $20 in quantities of 10,000 units.

Despite this new video technology chip just being released, this isn't the first time Atheros has done multimedia: the company already has existing chips in Sony televisions in the Japanese market.



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