Smaller Size, More Features

By Eric Griffith

October 11, 2004

The big names in wireless chips know that miniscule rules, but they aren't sacrificing abilities as they integrate more and more functionality, such as voice support and full dual-band capabilities.

What's more important, reduced die size of a Wi-Fi chip, or how many things you can get it to do? The big names in wireless silicon, Atheros Communications and Broadcom Corp. , would probably both answer that by saying, "both."

The two companies both have announcements today about new chipsets that showcase not only reduced size, but also high integration with other features.

Broadcom's new chipset is the company's first to feature specific voice over IP (VoIP) telephony features along with 802.11g-based Wi-Fi (they have provided chips for wired IP phones, such as models from Avaya). With this move, Broadcom is joining other companies heavily invested in the WLAN/VoIP world, such as Texas Instruments.

The two Broadcom chips together—the BCM1160 VoIP processor and the BCM4318 AirForce One 54g chip—represent the full solution, which Monika Gupta (Broadcom's product line manager for wireless VoIP products) says represents fewer components than are usually found in a Wi-Fi phone: "Most chipsets are three to five components."

Geared toward future Wi-Fi handsets, the VoIP chip is also optimized for low power, and will feature interfaces for supporting a 262k color LCD display on the phone for a programmable user interface—and can even run a 1.3 megapixel camera in the phone (since they're all the rage). The company expects to see play with this chipset in products for both consumers and business.

Perhaps most interesting is the security aspect. Broadcom introduced its Secure EZ Setup (SEZS) months ago in access points as a software solution for easily setting up security. Gupta says the company will migrate SEZS to phones through this chipset as well, through a stripped-down Linux-based interface that's still being ported.

Broadcom was one of the first companies to have chips that were tested by the Wi-Fi Alliance to support Wireless Multimedia (WMM), an aspect of the future 802.11e standard for wireless Quality of Service (QoS) that the Alliance is now checking for interoperability in certain products. Gupta says this chipset will have WMM support built in.

The company's biggest rival, Atheros, is trumpeting a different kind of integration: the company is the first to make a single-chip solution that supports full dual-band Wi-Fi. Some call it "tri-mode" Wi-Fi as it will support all three major flavors of 802.11 that exist in two radio frequency bands: 802.11a in the 5GHz band and 802.11b and 11g in the 2.4GHz band. Previously, Atheros needed a minimum of two chips to support both radio bands. With 15% fewer parts needed now, the company says it will make the overall bill of materials (BOM) for creating the chips much cheaper.

What's more, the CMOS chip—AR5006X by name—will also include all of the usual Atheros extras, including Super AG speed boosts and XR eXtended Range technology for increasing the distance between wireless LAN nodes. It will include AES encryption so it can fully support the 802.11i security standard, plus the WMM spec mentioned above—Atheros was also one of the companies given early certification with WMM by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Both Broadcom and Atheros have products in the WMM testbed used by labs that examine products for the Alliance.

The Atheros AR5006X chip is sampling with customers now, and will probably be available by the end of the year. Broadcom is offering both of its chips to customers today and also has a phone reference design, but doesn't have any customers to announce yet.

Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.