Metalink Announces 11n Draft 2.0 Chip

By Eric Griffith

December 11, 2006

This silicon won't ship until well into 2007 and is optimized for TVs and set-top boxes, not laptops.

You don't hear a lot about Metalink's draft 802.11n support and that's because it doesn't play in the splashy waters of home and business Wi-Fi networks. Instead, the company focused its WLANPlus chips on the consumer electronics and entertainment industries. And that will continue next year with a second generation chip supporting the 2.0 draft of 802.11n.

"Like its predecessor from a year ago, this new chip will be optimized for video distribution in the home," says Ron Cates, the vice president of North American Sales and Marketing for Metalink. The company's headquarters is in Israel.

The first generation WLANPlus is used in products from overseas companies such as LG, Daewoo, Haier, Phillips, and others in Europe and Asia. Cates estimates Metalink chips are in about 12 IPTV set-top boxes now, most of which he could not mention, but expects to have more customer announcements by the time of the 2007 International CES in January.

"The idea behind generation one was to make a technology demonstrator to dispel the myth we battle, that video distribution over wireless is difficult to control," says Cates. "Which it is — if you used prior 802.11a/b/g generations. But 11n solves some of the fundamental problems that come with video distribution."

What of Cates's claims of Draft 2.0 compliance, considering that there's no official 2.0 ratified draft from the IEEE yet? "In reality, it's fair to say we're draft 1.0 compliant," he admits. "We think we're Draft 2.0 compliant because we've seen the controversial issues being discussed and they don't seem to apply to the features, the baseline, we've designed into our chip."

The Wi-Fi Alliance will  deviate from its normal position of only certifying Wi-Fi products based on finished specifications to test Draft 2.0 802.11n products next year when they flood the market. Cates says the baseline of features Metalink is seeing is why the Alliance can do that and why Metalink chips will interoperate. He says, "Most of the things that are controversial are options."

Even with a baseline of features, Metalink isn't taking chances on last minute changes to the 11n 2.0 draft. It has installed software hooks in the Media Access Controller (MAC) of the chip to provide for upgrades via firmware downloads. "You never know," says Cates. "We're committed to standards compliance and will modify to become compliant." He doesn't expect a final ratification of 802.11n by the IEEE until well into 2008.

Metalink thinks it's alone in this Wi-Fi for consumer electronics arena. The other major chip makers (Atheros, Broadcom, Marvell, Intel, and Qualcomm's Airgo) all seem to be targeting data/PC networking. Cates believes, "Our real competition comes from wired alternatives for video home networking — that means coax and powerline." He doesn't see ultrawideband as a competitor since it's only for short distances. Metalink hopes companies like Ruckus Wireless, which is making a big splash in providing IPTV vendors with wireless home distribution, will be customers rather than competition, since Ruckus is not a semi-conductor maker like Metalink. "One can only wonder how good their products will be if they used our technology as the underlying physical layer and mate it with their proprietary software," speculates Cates.

Metalink will have final reference designs for PCI cards, a wireless dongle, and a residential gateway in January 2007.  Cates expects that the Generation 2 chips will go through a full design cycle in early 2007 and will ramp up for full production by June or July to be inside products for the holiday shopping season.

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