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Broadcom launches one-chip Wi-Fi adaptor

World first, company claims

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WLAN chip maker Broadcom today unveiled what it claims is the world's first product to combine on a single chip all the radio and networking components traditionally spread across multiple chips.

The AirForce One BCM4317 integrates the broadband and MAC components customarily offered on one chip with the radio and power amplification units built into current WLAN adaptors on a second chip.

A single-chip solution reduces the WLAN adaptor's power consumption - by up to 97 per cent, claims Broadcom - and is smaller than a multi-chip set-up. The company's design "eliminates more than 100 discrete components and makes the one-chip module 87 per cent smaller than traditional mini-PCI Wi-Fi solutions", it says. These size and power factors should make it easier - and less expensive - to integrate Wi-Fi into much smaller, battery-powered devices, such as cellphones, digicams, MP3 players and PDAs.

Certainly, some such devices have Wi-Fi built in, or provided through add-on CompactFlash or SDIO cards. However, they tend to be at the pricier end of the market. They also hit PDA batteries hard. Broadcom believes its new chip will allow manufacturers to integrate Wi-Fi connectivity into a broader range of devices without the battery life penalty, and push the technology to more price-sensitive buyers.

The chip keeps components powered down until they're needed, particularly useful when the host device is in standby mode. Broadcom reckons its chip can add "several days" to the typical battery life of a Wi-Fi equipped PDA.

As yet, the Broadcom chips supports only 802.11b, but that's generally sufficient for most handhelds' data transfer requirements, such as multi-player gaming or PDA personal information synchronisation. It incorporates Broadcom's proprietary Xpress acceleration technology for networks comprising only compatible Broadcom-based WLAN adaptors and base-stations.

The new chip also supports Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security and features hardware support for the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), set to be a part of the 802.11i security standard of which WPA is a sub-set.

The AirForce One BCM4317 is shipping now to select Broadcom customers, the company said, along with "production-ready" reference systems based on the new chip. Broadcom did not say when the technology will go into volume production, or detail pricing. ®

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