No "N" in mobile yet, but 802.11n chipsets are enabling the arrival

Nov. 11, 2009
The rapid proliferation of multitasking smartphones with more advanced applications means consumers are going to be asking for 802.11n soon, according to market research firm In-Stat.

November 11, 2009 -- The rapid proliferation of multitasking smartphones with more advanced applications means consumers are going to be asking for 802.11n soon, according to market research firm In-Stat.

Because more powerful and bandwidth intensive applications that stream video are demanded from sources like the iTunes App Store and Android Marketplace, the importance of Wi-Fi is growing considerably. Still, mobile has been the domain of 802.11b/g solutions Of the 332 models of mobile phones that In-Stat tracks in its "1H09 Wi-Fi Product Database," only one contains 802.11n capability.

"There is not only a demand for better Wi-Fi performance in mobile devices, but the installed base of 802.11n networking equipment is growing to support that demand," says In-Stat analyst Victoria Fodale. "The penetration of 802.11n is dependent on the form factor, i.e., standalone access points, residential gateways, and SOHO/consumer routers. Overall, in 2Q09, the penetration of 802.11n in SOHO/consumer routers was 40.6%."

Clearly, the Wi-Fi silicon vendors agree with Ms. Fodale. Broadcom announced the BCM4329 in December of last year and began shipping in volume during Q3 of this year. The Broadcom BCM4329 integrates 802.11 a/b/g/n (MAC/baseband/radio) with Bluetooth 3.0. The BCM4329 features integrated 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WLAN CMOS power amplifiers and an on-chip Power Management Unit supporting direct battery (2.3V to 5.5V) connection. The Broadcom solution also integrates the FM radio receiver and transmitters, allowing someone to not only listen to radio but to broadcast their handset music selection to a nearby radio such as in an automobile.

This week came the announcement of the new Atheros 65nm "Align" AR6003 and AR6133 wireless 802.11n mobile chipsets, which promise better energy efficiency, more bandwidth, longer range, and a much smaller footprint than Atheros's previous "g" solution that was intended for mobile devices. In mobile configurations, the AR6003 operates in both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. In a demonstration, In-Stat observed that Atheros' solution maintained a steady 42 Mbps of useable bandwidth, which is almost twice that of an 802.11g chipset, offering enough bandwidth to stream HD video with room to spare. The solution also provided roughly 70 Mbps throughput levels in the 5GHz band using 40 MHz operation.

The AR6133 chipset (a two chip solution in single package) also provides both 802.11n and Bluetooth 3.0. Its Bluetooth cooperation mode enables a user to multitask with simultaneous access to both technologies. This means a user can seamlessly stream internet radio over Wi-Fi, while listening on a stereo Bluetooth headset without any interference. In a demonstration with Bluetooth activated, the 802.11n chipset still gives the user more than 20 Mbps of useable Wi-Fi bandwidth in the 2.4GHz band.

In terms of better power efficiency, the greater bandwidth of 802.11n solutions enhance battery life in normal usage such as web surfing by powering up quickly, transmitting the data, and then quickly powering down into a sleep state, minimizing the transmit or receive time of the radio.

As would also be expected, there is a cost savings that is created through integration of other chips and their corresponding features onto a single die. There are power amplifier and power management chips eliminated from the rest of the BOM. Additional cost savings are achieved with less complex packaging. In-Stat's back of the napkin calculation puts the cost of the entire solution at about 50% to 60% of the older "g" solution.

Simply put, "n" in mobile is a compelling technology that cannot be ignored, maintains the tech analyst firm. Smartphones are rapidly requiring more powerful processors, better battery technologies, more competent web browsers and multitasking capabilities due to more bandwidth intensive applications. Further, consumers are willing to pay a premium for devices that have longer useful lives as a result of OS updates that are full of new features. Looking forward, it will be hard for OEMs to ignore the benefits of 802.11n.

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