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Broadcom uncloaks zippy '5G WiFi' chippery

3x wireless speed boost in products this year

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As promised, communications chipmeister Broadcom has announced its first family of chips based on the still-unratified high-speed 5G WiFi standard more prosaically known as IEEE 802.11ac.

"The exponential growth of digital media and wirelessly connected devices requires faster and more reliable ways to connect anytime, anywhere," said Broadcom Mobile & Wireless honcho Michael Hurlston in a statement.

"5G WiFi solves this media explosion challenge," he promised.

Note that "5G" refers to fifth-generation Wi-Fi, and is not a reference to five-gigabit throughput. The performance of Broadcom's four new 802.11ac chips will provide throughput from between 433Mbps in single-stream implementations to 1.3Gbps in three-stream schemes. Future 802.11ac implementations promise throughput of up to the standard's peak of 3.6Gbps.

Broadcom also promises that their new chippery is far more power-efficient than current Wi-Fi circuits, citing improvements of up to six times more power-miserly than 802.11n.

What's more, Broadcom points out, 802.11ac's faster speeds will allow files – the company specifically cites in-home video as one target market – to be transferred faster, thus allowing the chips to more quickly drop down into low-power mode.

Broadcom also touts the chips' 80MHz channel bandwidth as being two times wider than today's 802.11n setups, and their 256-QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) scheme as being able to transfer data more efficiently – which, being able to transfer eight bits per QAM symbol, it most certainly should.

The highest-end chip, the 1.3Gbps BCM4360, supports PCIe, as does the 867Mbps BCM4352. The 867Mbps BCM43526 support USB, as does the 433Mbps BCM43516. All four chips promise backwards compatibility with earlier Wi-Fi incarnations, and as the 802.11ac standard wends its way through the ratification process, devices using them should be able to be flash-upgraded.

Broadcom is currently sampling the 5G WiFi chips to its "early access partners including retail and PC OEMs, service providers and carriers". Netgear and Buffalo, for example, have devices in their pipelines, with the latter promising to show off 802.11ac devices at next week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2012) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

While Broadcom is the first to offer a family of single-chip IEEE 802.11ac parts in what will most certainly be high quantities, its not the first company to make 5G WiFi available to device makers. That distiction goes to the start-up Quantenna Communications, which released its QAC2300 two-chip chipset and reference platform last November. In addition, Redpipe Signals released its Quali-Fi 802.11ac design in December.

We expect to see Qualcomm Atheros, Texas Instruments, and Marvell jump on the 802.11ac sooner rather than later, with end-user products coming to market later this year – even if the standard's ratification process proves as snail-like as was 802.11n's. ®

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