Broadcom introduces single-chip Wi-Fi client

The chip is suitable for cell phones, handheld computers and consumer electronics

Broadcom Corp. is today unveiling what it calls the world's first 802.11b wireless Wi-Fi LAN client contained on a single, low-power chip suitable for use in cell phones, handheld computers and consumer electronic devices.

In other Wi-Fi news, Foundry Networks Inc. is introducing its entry into the enterprise wireless LAN market with a new family of products, including access points and a $2,000 software upgrade that will allow its existing wired LAN network switches to control a company's wired and wireless network infrastructure.

Stephen Palm, principal engineer at Irvine, Calif.-based Broadcom, said the company is targeting its new industry-standard 802.11b chip at the cell phone market. The low power of the chip -- which Palm said uses nearly 90% less power than other chips on the market -- will allow Wi-Fi-enabled handsets to make voice-over-IP calls when in the range of an enterprise WLAN or a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Despite the chip's small size, Palm said Broadcom has built extensive capabilities into the hardware, including the next-generation Advanced Encryption Standard and the current Wireless Protected Access security. Broadcom is already talking with several cell phone handset manufacturers about using the chip, although Palm declined to identify them. Palm said Broadcom is also working on a family of single chip WLAN clients.

Len Barlik, vice president of technology research and development at Sprint Corp., predicted that Wi-Fi mobile handsets wouldn't be in widespread use until 2005.

Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass., said he expects Wi-Fi-enabled cell phone handsets to hit the market by either late this year or early in 2004. He said cell phones represent a major market for Wi-Fi, since some 500 million mobile phones are sold worldwide each year, adding that he expects Broadcom to hold on to its single chip advantage for a short time.

Craig Barratt, president and CEO of Atheros Communications Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., said his company is working on a single Wi-Fi chip based on the 802.11a standard which operates in the 5-GHz band and provides raw data rates of 54Mbit/sec. That compares with the 11Mbit/sec. transfer rate of the Broadcom 802.11b chip, which operates in the 2.4-GHz band.

Foundry Networks, in Alviso, Calif., uses Atheros dual-band, trimode chips in the $895 access points it introduced today, according to Philip Kwan, director of enterprise applications. That access point will support clients using the 802.11a and 802.11b standards as well as the 802.11g standard, which has a raw data rate of 54Mbit/sec. in the 2.4-GHz band.

Instead of developing a new switch to control the access points and the WLAN architecture as companies such as Symbol Technologies Inc. have done, Foundry decided to integrate wireless management software into its existing family of switches, Kwan said. That will allow an IT manager to control wired and wireless networks from a single device.

Richard Nelson, IT director for the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, in Marina Del Rey, Calif., which operates an extensive network powered by Foundry switches, is "very enthused" about the Foundry approach, which he said will save him from running a bifurcated switch architecture to support both wired and wireless networks.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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