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IceFyre's New Chips Heading Home

With the profit margin of Wi-Fi chip producers tighter than Britney Spears' blue jeans, why was a Canadian company exhibiting a pair of new wireless chips at the recent CTIA trade show? IceFyre Semiconductor sees Wi-Fi moving from laptops to living rooms.

While in 2003 the Wi-Fi market is very PC-centric, that will change, believes Tyler Burns, IceFyre's product marketing manager. Tyler sees Wi-Fi moving into home entertainment centers and high-definition televisions.

"We've had multiple vendors tell us in Japan all HDTV flatpanels, LCD and Plasma will have Wi-Fi built-in, and we see that as a big market," says Tyler.

Tyler points to a Forwards Concepts report indicating as many as 60 million audio-visual devices will include 802.11a chips.

So far, Sharp and Hitachi are signing on to IceFyre's vision of 802.11a reborn for the home.

IceFyre sees the number of wireless consumer electronics devices swelling from the current 4.5 million to 96 million by 2006. At the same time, Tyler believes Wi-Fi-enabled consumer devices will eclipse PC-only wireless gadgets.

"Wireless is breaking out of the PC-only space and PC devices will become only 30 percent" of the wireless market, says Tyler.

The two chips touted by IceFyre are SureFyre -- a media access controller, radio and power amplifier -- and the 802.11a/b/g TwinFyre radio. SureFyre begins shipping in the first quarter of 2004 while TwinFyre is scheduled for the third quarter of 2004. When IceFyre announced its two new low-power Wi-Fi chips, Sanyo said they provide the "performance, power and system design flexibility" for consumer electronics.

At the CTIA, IceFyre's demonstration included transferring a video using the company's technology, along with that of its partner, Hitachi. Kozunori Nakamura, department manager of Hitachi's Solution Development Office, said the two chips are "capable of meeting the demanding requirements of next-generation WLAN-enabled audio-visual products."

The audo-visual market is ripe for Wi-Fi chipmakers, according to one analyst.

"Once it's mainstream to have broadband and a wireless LAN in the home, there will be many products that start incorporating low-cost, low-power WLAN chips in the home," says Allen Nogee, analyst for research firm In-Stat/MDR.

"The basic message is that 11a is far from dead," says Tyler. While 802.11b and 802.11g will control future laptops, "11a will dominate the AV space, because of the guaranteed throughput."

IceFyre doesn't have the 802.11a home market to itself, though. Atheros has already announced a low-power chipset, Broadcom has become a big 11g producer and Magis Networks, ViXs Systems, and Bermai are targeting the consumer electronics space with wireless chips.

Despite the competition, IceFyre believes its low-power products have an advantage.

"In all modes of operation, we have lower power consumption than the competition," says Tyler. One example is Wi-Fi-enabled PDAs. The company says many current wireless PDAs use 800 mW, but Tyler claims IceFyre's new chips consume just 720 mW.

He sees IceFyre's 802.11a chips easing the congestion of increasingly-crowded Wi-Fi airspace.

The chips' ability to tolerate interference from other wireless signals -- what engineers call 'multipath' -- will be a boon for future Wi-Fi hotspots.

"This is great for high-end wireless, especially hotspots in the future, where airports or downtowns are covered and there's larger multipath situations," claims Tyler.

In a market thought to have squeezed out every ounce of profit, IceFyre is just one of the companies recognizing the next generation of Wi-Fi: your home.

Wi-Fi Planet Conference What's the real future of wireless in your TV and stereo? Join us at the Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo, December 2 - 5, 2003 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, CA. Companies like ViXs and Bermai will be discussing this on a panel called Multimedia Over WLANs.