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Texas Instruments unveils power-saving 802.11b processor

Texas Instruments has unveiled a power-saving 802.11b processor.

Texas Instruments has announced its new 802.11b processor, claiming that it offers a tenfold reduction of standby power consumption.

Until now, wireless local area network (LAN) proponents have tended to emphasize speed and range, rather than low power requirements and simplified management. The new wireless LAN processor from Texas Instruments could herald the beginning of a maturing market in which price, power efficiency and tight space requirements are increasingly important.

Technology

Texas Instrument's TNETW1100B is an integrated, single-chip 802.11b medium access controller (MAC) and baseband processor (BBP) designed to meet the low-power and tight space requirements of the emerging embedded and portable wireless LAN market. It also is designed to improve power savings for traditional NIC and PC card applications.

Texas Instrument claims to have made use of its experience in the cell phone industry by optimizing the TNETW1100B with extra low power (ELP) technology. According to Texas Instruments, ELP enables standby power consumption of less than two milliwatts at chip level, yielding an up to a tenfold reduction in standby power consumption at the system level, compared with current 802.11b chipsets.

Texas Instruments' TNETW1100B replaces its existing ACX100 single-chip WLAN MAC with a Wi-Fi-compliant (IEEE 802.11b) spread-spectrum baseband processor. In addition to the MAC and baseband processor, the ACX100's MAC integrates an ARM 7TDMI RISC processor, with on-chip host and baseband interfaces. The ACX100 directly interfaces to a host and 2.4GHz radio to provide a complete offering for OEM WLAN system providers.

Marketing

Most 802.11b devices spend up to 95% of their time in non-operational sleep or standby modes, rather than transmitting and receiving data. By addressing the consumption of standby power – in addition to the power consumed during transmit/receive operation – Texas Instruments claims that systems based on its TNETW1100B should allow for battery-efficiency and longer usage times.

Texas Instruments claims that no performance or throughput compromises are experienced with these improvements in power consumption. The company claims that an 802.11b-enabled PDA based on TNETW1100B will experience up to 25% longer battery life over competitive solutions. A laptop running typical office applications with a TNETW1100B-based PC card or miniPCI will use up to 75% less energy than competitive solutions, it adds.

Texas Instruments has also put together a suite of tools to assist developers who are embedding wireless LAN capabilities for the mobile and portable marketplace. The Embedded Station Design Kit is tailored for embedded operating systems such as Pocket PC and Symbian, and includes programming and hardware design tools, as well as sample reference designs.

The TNETW1100B is sampling now and is scheduled to be available in volume production in the fourth quarter. Pricing is planned at under $10 in quantities of 10,000.

Competition

To date, there have been few participants in wireless LAN processor market with actual production silicon available for system manufacturers, and the amount of silicon being produced remains relatively small. Intersil and Atheros, two early leaders, account for an estimated 85% of the 802.11b semiconductor market. The two firms offer complete packages for 802.11b systems that include RF, baseband and MAC, while Texas Instruments relies on RF Micro Devices for its RF front end.

Until now, wireless LAN chipset vendors have emphasized speed and range in their competitive advantage claims. With the market now entering a new phase, characterized by growth in markets such as notebook computers, handhelds, wireless 'hot spots' and wireless networked access points, semiconductor vendors are coming under pressure to reduce both price and power consumption. But longer-term market maturity will be reflected in wireless LAN gross margins as price-drops kick in – and this benefits larger semiconductor companies that can exploit economies of scale.

Earlier this summer, Texas Instruments announced that its ACX100 chip would become the backbone of Irvine, California-based D-Link's next-generation line of 2.4GHz 802.11b products, the D-LinkAir Series. Intersil had been the previous provider of 802.11b chips for D-Link (which had been one of Intersil's biggest customers in volume). We suspect the decision to go with TI's chip was based on a combination of performance increases, power consumption, board space and price savings.


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