Atheros Chips for 11n Draft 2.0

By Eric Griffith

May 21, 2007

The XSPAN AR9001 silicon will be the company's first wave for enterprise 11n. It supports dual-band, and is small enough for a USB stick.

Atheros Communications is readying its second wave of chips supporting higher-speed 802.11n, the first set for the (still-in-draft 2.0) standard it considers enterprise class. The XSPAN AR9001 line is currently sampling with customers, and should be in products by the third quarter of this year.

“The messaging is that N is no longer ‘next’ -- it’s ‘now,’” says Atheros vice president of marketing Todd Antes, echoing what will likely be the company’s marketing campaign going forward.

This latest XSPAN line will be the first from Atheros to be small enough to support a USB-based adapter the size of a thumb-drive, while still supporting dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz at the same time, with 2x2 antenna configuration). “Many USB solutions are somewhat large, hockey-puck-sized dongles today,” says Antes. “We’ll be bringing it back to the stick form.” Pictures show the USB adapter likely sticking out about 2.5 inches.

The XSPAN chips in the past have supported ExpressCard and CardBus adapters. Antes says that in the last year, USB has become the dominant size wanted by consumers, preferred two to one over other adapters in retail channels, according to data they tracked from NPD.

On the access point side, the AR9001 will be part of Atheros’ router system-on-a-chip (SoC), including a 400 MHz wireless network processor, baseband and MAC on a single device. “We’ll do it all with two chips,” claims Antes. “It’ll drive 11n products to the consumer mainstream.” These can be both single- and dual-band, depending on what the vendor making the product wants.

Various configurations for the chips include single-band 2x2 MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) or dual-band 2x2 MIMO with Fast Ethernet (10/100 Mbps) support; or single- and dual-band with 3x3 MIMO and Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1,000 Mbps). Through some wired switch maker acquisitions last year, Atheros can also offer the Fast Ethernet switch to its customers; Gigabit ports will come later, at least on the consumer side.

“In our first batch of launch products, they’re all two-stream capable, but many APs, like D-Link’s 655, use a 3x3 configuration, so that’s one additional radio with redundant signal ... it's all about increased robustness at range,” says Antes. “Some customers use it; in other cases, they won’t.”

Atheros has a new reference design for vendors to buy and change as they see fit, called AR9001AP-3NX2, supporting dual-band to get an aggregate data rate of 600 Mbps (300 on 2.4 GHz plus 300 on 5 GHz, if both radios are at peak throughput).

The chips will support Atheros JumpStart for Wireless, the company's simple security configuration, which complies with the Wi-Fi Protected Setup standard created by the Wi-Fi Alliance for industry-wide push-button or PIN-based security setup.

Last week, Atheros XSPAN chips from the first generation of 11n chips were announced as part of the 802.11n testbed for interoperability put together by the Wi-Fi Alliance.



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