Atheros "Aligns" With Consumers

By Naomi Graychase

October 28, 2008

With its new Align family of WLAN solutions, Atheros intends to serve consumers looking for 802.11n performance at 802.11g prices.

With its new Align family of WLAN solutions, Atheros intends to serve consumers looking for 802.11n performance at 802.11g prices.


Atheros Communications announced Monday the first members of its new Align product family, a complete portfolio of WLAN solutions based on the IEEE draft 802.11n 1-stream specification.

By focusing on the single-stream feature, the Align chips are designed to enable a new class of entry-level consumer Wi-Fi devices that deliver 802.11n performance at 802.11g prices. Align solutions are also forward-compatible to higher-performance, multi-stream, MIMO-based 802.11n, providing a smooth upgrade path for consumers.

“The Align family is a family of single stream 11n products, according to the IEEE specs, which are ideal for upgrading legacy g. All those products that fill the entry-level shelves and PCs—we are suggesting that we can bring 11n performance and power at costs similar to g. In 2009, we’re promoting this new family as a way to move forward from legacy g to 11n.,” Todd Antes, VP Marketing at Atheros, told Wi-FiPlanet.

Atheros says its Align solutions deliver up to 150 Mbps PHY rates and leverage the efficiencies of the 802.11n media access control (MAC) technology to achieve actual throughput levels up to five times that of legacy 802.11g. The higher throughput of 1-stream products can improve network efficiency by occupying the wireless channel for shorter periods than slower 11g devices. This reduces congestion and increases the capacity for additional wireless devices, says Antes.

“In the future, we will also look at the higher performance aspects at 3 and 4 stream, but the market demand will come later—late in 2010,” says Antes.

The first Align solutions will target the low-cost notebook, netbook, home networking, and consumer electronics (CE) markets.

“For the last year or more, Wi-Fi has been certifying as draft 11n-compliant,” says Antes. “It’s a very stable technology. NPD tracks U.S. retail markets and their numbers show that sales of 11n more than doubled last year. It’s taking the place of 11g. Consumers are adopting 11n technology, as price points are coming down to a more acceptable level. As of 2Q08, more than a third of PCs are now 11n-enabled. It’s a dramatic increase year-over-year from Q2. Consumers are starting to accept and enjoy 11n, but it’s still an 11g legacy market.”

As adoption rates continue to rise, Atheros expects its new Align solution to satisfy consumers looking to upgrade without paying more. Xspan, Atheros’s existing 11n brand, will continue to serve the higher-end demand from OEMs.

“We are continuing to launch the Xspan family,” says Antes. “We position Align as an upgrade and a replacement for legacy g technology. Both graphically and from a brand standpoint, it’s the smaller brother of the Xspan family. It’s not an advanced media solution; it’s entry-level 11n performance; 11n at g price points; performance meets practical.”

Meet the family

  • For PCs. According the Atheros, the AR9285 single-chip PCI Express (PCIe) solution is designed to enable PC OEMs to cost-effectively migrate their 11g-based notebooks to 802.11n. The single chip integrates the MAC/baseband and radio transceiver, as well as the power amplifier, low noise amplifiers and antenna switch. It supports Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS, and Linux® operating systems.
  • For home networking. The Atheros Align AR9002AP-1S chipset for home networking “targets a new generation of higher performance, value-priced wireless routing equipment, with increased capacity and range over legacy 802.11g. The solution is ideal for wireless AP/routers that support multiple users with robust operation of multiple data networking applications.”  It consists of the AR9285 1-stream MAC/BB/radio and the new Atheros AR7240 network processor System-on-Chip (SOC), which features power management and a network processor with integrated 5-port Fast Ethernet switch based on the Atheros ETHOS technology. The AR7240 provides 400 MHz of processing power and is specifically engineered to optimize wireless performance by “looking beyond clock speed and focusing on overall system efficiency.” The AR7240 features a MIPS32 24K processor core, 64KB of instruction memory, and a 16-bit Double-Data-Rate (DDR) memory interface to increase raw memory speed. According to Atheros, the AR9002AP-1S delivers the lowest total bill of materials of any of its competitors.
  • For carrier gateways, CE, and PC adapters. The Atheros AR9271 single-chip USB solution is for home gateways, set-top boxes, gaming consoles, printers, and similar Wi-Fi-enabled devices. It can also be integrated into wireless USB adapters for notebooks and desktops, to enable affordable performance upgrades on legacy PCs. The AR9271 WLAN USB single-chip features a new architecture that integrates both a CPU and memory to run more of the wireless LAN function on-chip. The Atheros integrated CPU offloads the wireless processing overhead from the host appliance to enable CE devices with host processors not originally intended to support wireless functions to offer Wi-Fi.

And one for all

Atheros currently ships into most major PC and retail OEMs and hopes its existing accounts will migrate.

“As a technology provider into the wireless industry, we are big believers in 11n being the right next-gen technology for all wireless networks,” says Antes. “If we want to change the world to 11n technology, we can’t just do that with Xspan. We can’t just focus on the highest of high-end apps. A lot of the base and success of the Wi-Fi technology is with college students or even people in developing countries who are experiencing Wi-Fi on a budget. We cannot ignore the fact that the volume in Wi-Fi ships in these entry-level price points. We address that with a family like Align, by hitting those price points, but bringing the benefit of 11n. That’s what this is.”

Atheros tests throughput in both a non-real-world environment (a theoretical shield room), as well as at a 3,000-square-foot off-site house. “The numbers we quote are based on theory, but backed up by measurement,” says Antes.

The AR9002AP-1S chipset for AP/Routers and AR9285 single chip for PCs are sampling now. The AR9271 embedded USB solution will begin sampling in late Q4 2008. More details about the Align family, including its power-saving features and range enhancements can be found at the Atheros Web site.

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She is based in Western Massachusetts and runs her WLAN on a TrendNet 802.11n-draft router (which operates on an Atheros Xspan chip).



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