Airgo's MIMO on the Cheap-o

By Eric Griffith

June 22, 2005

The chip maker is selling lots of pre-802.11n technology, but plans to do even better with lower-cost silicon for consumers.

If you've coveted the speed promised by the various products from Belkin, Buffalo Technology, Linksys and others that use the True MIMO chip from Airgo Networks, but balked at the higher prices, well, Airgo wants you.

The company announced this week new chips called True G and True AG, which CEO Greg Raleigh says have a large percentage of the benefits of the original True MIMO, including "vastly superior performance over standard 802.11g." However, unlike the current products using True MIMO that price well over $100 each, the True G and AG chips will power routers and access points in the mid-range of $69 to $99.

The difference between the faster first generation and this cheaper second generation is in the signal processing of the baseband chip and the number of antennas—True MIMO has three, True G and AG have only two. Raleigh says this brings the price down as much as 50% in the case of the True G.

"If consumers want the best performance, they buy True MIMO enabled routers and adapters; if they want something better than everything else but True MIMO, they get True G and A/G," he says.

Products using the new chips should be out by the end of this month. They will not be upgradeable to True MIMO's capabilities (not enough antennas, for one thing).

True MIMO chip prices are also expected to drop by 20 to 25 percent.

Airgo's definition of multiple in, multiple out (MIMO) technology is two or more radio signals traveling on the same radio channel with different information, such as to increase the speed and range of a wireless connection.

Other companies are using the term MIMO to describe products, such as Video54, which uses a technology called BeamFlex with what it calls "seven smart MIMO antennas" to extend range and WLAN speed. Netgear has built a line of products on the Video54 technology called RangeMax, and this week added a new product to the line up, an access point, which will list for $157.

Netgear says RangeMax equipment will improve performance of standard 802.11b/g clients when working together; Airgo makes the same claim about all its chips as well.

Earlier this month, Samsung became the first laptop vendor to announce plans to build MIMO chips into its laptops. They'll be using the original Airgo True MIMO chips.

MIMO technology will be a cornerstone of the 802.11 specification which is still in the works with the IEEE. A final standard isn't expected until 2007 at best. The chance of any of the MIMO products today being fully compatible with the final 11n—let alone upgradeable to the final 11n—is very, very unlikely.

Be that as it may, Raleigh is bullish on Airgo prospects: "We think by the end of 2006, [MIMO products will] reach half of the market."



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