Chipmakers Race to Embed

Chipmakers Race to Embed

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Eric Griffith

May 24, 2005

The race to put Wi-Fi in phones is on: convergence leader Texas Instruments looks back at Atheros, Conexant and others making announcements this week targeting smaller devices.

If there was any question that Wi-Fi radios for voice over IP (VoIP) are destined to have a strong showing in wireless phones and PDAs in the next few years, this week’s announcements from silicon developers should put it to rest.

Just about every company seriously in the Wi-Fi chip market has a super-small, low-power solution either here or imminent. That’s no surprise, when researchers like In-Stat predict that 46 percent of the 296 million WLAN-enabled mobile phones expected by 2010 will have voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) capabilities.

Texas Instruments (TI) , which has a long history of providing chips for cell phones, is leading the charge in embedded Wi-Fi, and already has its Wi-Fi chips embedded in 20 devices.

Atheros doesn’t plan to leave the market to TI for long. This week, the company announced its Radio-on-Chip for Mobile products (ROCm), a family of single chips for putting either 802.11g or 802.11a/g into handsets, PDAs, cameras, game units and media players.

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Atheros product line manager Alex Liu says his company’s ROCm AR6001 family has extensive support of features like Quality of Service (QoS) for voice prioritization and energy savings, “even sleeping [power-wise] during an active conversation.” The ROCm chips will also build in Atheros JumpStart software, its one-button-touch security setup technology. Future versions of JumpStart, Liu says, won’t even require a screen interface, so they’ll work with “headless devices” that have no display, like an iPod Shuffle.

Another company making embedded Wi-Fi noise this week is Conexant . VP of Wireless Networking Chee Kwan claims in a statement that Conexant’s CX3110X single-chip 11g is “the lowest power and highest density Wi-Fi radio available today.”

Atheros’s Liu says Conexant’s solution lacks QoS and the automatic configuration features like JumpStart, and that it is priced about 30 percent higher than Atheros will list the ROCm chips. Another big difference, though, is that Atheros is only sampling its chips, while the Conexant product is shipping in volume right now.

As reported yesterday, SyChip also announced a new chipset called SyVoice this week, also targeting the Wi-Fi/Cellular Convergence (WCC) market.

Broadcom is also in this market, having announced a Wi-Fi phone reference platform with its two-chip VoIP+54g Wi-Fi silicon back in March, and even announcing a deal to build Broadcom-based Wi-Fi into the new Nintendo game console code-named Revolution.

IDC ranks Broadcom as the leader among WLAN chipmakers for the year, with Atheros, Intel , Conexant, and TI filling in the top five. The research firm predicts a surge of chip sales as mobile devices and Wi-Fi networks continue to converge, pushing Wi-Fi chips from $1.2 billion in sales in 2005 to $3 billion by 2009. They say support for QoS “will be a critical aspect of future designs, especially for audio and video streaming applications.”

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