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Marvell 802.11g: "54Mbps for the Masses"

Before even making the step to 5Ghz 802.11a like most chip makers, Marvell of Sunnyvale, CA, has announced that it will be bring the 2.4GHz 802.11g specification to its line of Libertas wireless LAN chips.

Products currently out using 802.11g are based on an early draft of the standard. A number of existing products using 802.11g have taken criticism for not working well with 802.11b and for performance issues.

"We're launching later than some of the guys with draft products today," says James Chen, product marketing manager for the WLAN line at Marvell. "We're doing it deliberately, being careful about this. People are aware of the problems with draft G, and we don't want things repeated...when we do launch it, it will be standards compatible and we've done things in the chip to make sure of that."

The 802.11g draft 6.1 just got approval from the 802.11 Working Group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in mid-February. The draft will continue to be out for comments for a few more months. Approval by the IEEE Standards Board is expected for June.

Marvell promises its Libertas 802.11g chips will have "true" 802.11g with full 11b backwards compatibility and will be fully upgradeable to the final 802.11g standard. The chipset includes an ARM 9 processor for field-based firmware upgrades.

Chen says that in-house testing with the Libertas 802.11g chip is showing real-world data throughput rates in the mid-20's of megabits per second (Mbps). In comparison, most tests at 802.11 Planet with 11g draft products to date have show performance around 14Mbps; 802.11a products usually average around 22Mbps.

Marvell also claims transmission and signal detection range will be up to four times better. The chips will also have a built in hardware security engine to support the upcoming 802.11i security specification.

Marvell's two-chip sets will consist of a single radio frequency (RF) transceiver (model 88W8010) coupled with a baseband/MAC chip for either client cards (model 88W8310) or access points (88W8510).

They'll also have a 3-chip set for wireless gateways which will consist of the transceiver, a version of the access point baseband/MAC, plus a chip to run a 5-port Ethernet switch.

Chen says the company is also working on 5Ghz 802.11a chips for launch in the second half of 2003: "We have dual band plans. [But] we want to launch 11g first -- it's 54Mbps for the masses. Dual band has merits, but it's going to cost more."