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CSR Intros Low-Cost, Single-Chip Wi-Fi

Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR), known for its chips for Bluetooth, says it will create a single-chip Wi-Fi for cell phones and consumer electronics.

CSR claims the chip, dubbed UniFi-1, will be the "lowest cost" embedded silicon available. The Cambridge, UK-based Bluetooth expert says it is targeting the growing markets of Wi-Fi enabled cell phones and consumer electronics.

UniFi-1, expected to begin chip sampling later this year, and to go into full production before the middle of 2005, will be produced in two flavors: UniFi-1 Portable and UniFi-1 Consumer. UniFi-1 Portable is aimed at the convergence of cell phones and Wi-Fi. The 6mm UniFi-1 Portable supports single-band 802.11b/g. The 8mm UniFi-1 Consumer supports dual-band 802.11a/b/g.

UniFi-1 achieves its single-chip form factor by integrating the RF, modem, baseband and media access controller (MAC). Both versions of the chip use spatial diversity techniques which are part of MIMO and likely to be part of the eventual high-speed Wi-Fi 802.11n standard.

In order for UniFi-1 to operate within small, battery-operated devices or consumer electronics without a computer's CPU, CSR has done away with a software-based MAC, along with integrating flash memory.

Reflecting the chip's likely use in cell phones, the chipmaker is ensuring that its UniFi-1 product is compatible with Bluetooth, along with common cell phone bands.

"It is important for RF performance that the Wi-Fi radio is able to coexist in very close proximity to GSM/CDMA and Bluetooth radios already present in the handset," according to CSR.

"Bluetooth is going into cell phones, and they want to be in cell phones," says Will Strauss of CSR's new chip. Strauss, an analyst with Forward Concepts, calls the company's move into the Wi-Fi segment unsurprising, saying "It's a natural market for them."

A major reason cited for CSR to concentrate its Wi-Fi chip on cell phones and battery-operated consumer electronics is to avoid the giant chipmaker Intel .

Focusing on phones and the convergence of Wi-Fi and consumer electronics, rather than laptop computers, "keeps them out of fire of Centrino," says Strauss. Intel has aggressively marketed its Centrino chipset as the answer for computer makers looking to add Wi-Fi.

"Although new players in a fast-moving market, CSR has introduced Wi-Fi products that differentiate it from the rest of the crowd in terms of physical size, power consumption, and total cost," said Strauss.

CSR sees the market for embedded, small, low power-consuming Wi-Fi chips as empty. "Nothing's available," says Eric Janson, vice president of marketing for CSR. While Atheros , for one, has announcements of single-chip solutions for the cell phone market, they employ a soft MAC requiring a Pentium processor and more, contends Janson. Atheros' integrated 802.11g chip is being used in Sharp's Actius MP30 notebook computer powered by Transmeta's new Efficeon processor.

"To be effective, CSR has to show that their products can offer OEMs the cheapest bill of material cost to add Wi-Fi capability. CSR offers a single-chip approach (plus power amplifier) that appears to be very cost effective," says Strauss.

CSR says the cost of external components "is less than $1 for both UniFi-1 Portable and UniFi-1 Consumer."

While Janson wouldn't say whether CSR would produce other Wi-Fi chips, the marketing executive emphasized that the company should be known for more than Bluetooth.

"We are a wireless company," says Janson.

We "should expect them in WiMax," added a more forthcoming Strauss.