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Atheros Introduces Low-power Chip

Atheros has announced the development of a new chipset, designed to substantially reduce power consumption in Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices without sacrificing performance or throughput.

In Atheros’s tests, the AR6002 ROCm chip consumed 70% less power while downloading content than previous chips, and achieved a near-zero level of power consumption when in standby mode, which, if Atheros’s claims are true, makes it the world’s lowest power mobile WLAN solution ever.

Atheros expects Wi-Fi use over mobile devices to increase considerably now that there is no price to pay when it comes to power.

“Wi-Fi is in mobile devices in the market,” says Joseph Bousaba, director of marketing for Mobile and Embedded Products for Atheros. “The problem is the battery life. I avoid using Wi-Fi because I hate the power drain I experience with my devices. We decided to hit on the problems that the consumer faces and battery was number one. We focused our attention on how we could drive the power consumption to all new levels.”

Impressive numbers

In Atheros’s tests, the AR6002 was able to operate for more than 100 hours in continual VoIP mode before it depleted a standard 3.7V, 800mAh phone battery, and it was able to download 200 gigabytes of data before depleting the same battery.

“What we are seeing is a breakthrough in power consumption performance,” says Bousaba. “As they look at Wi-Fi functionality, designers will see that the impact of Wi-Fi on battery power is very negligible with this solution.”

One-two punch

The dramatic results in power consumption are achieved through a combination of both hardware and software power-saving protocols and techniques.

“In wireless LAN, it’s about how the system works—it’s the silicon and the software as well. On the software side, we have introduced features not supported in the market today that can significantly reduce power consumption,” says Bousaba.

Getting along

The AR6002 has also been optimized and validated for coexistence with any certified Bluetooth on the market.

“Wireless and Bluetooth--for these to work together is critical,” says Bousaba. “On the WLAN side, we’ve done some new data and algorithms to optimize performance while sitting side-by-side with a Bluetooth solution. This will work with any Bluetooth solution.”

Thinking big

By practically eliminating power consumption issues, Atheros hopes to also eliminate any question in the minds of designers when it comes to determining whether to include Wi-Fi in devices such as smartphones, personal media players, digital still cameras, gaming and other portable consumer devices.

“Our goal is to make Wi-Fi ubiquitous,” says Bousaba. “I want to put it in every cell phone and every MP3 player. There will be no cost penalty [to consumers] even though we’ve gone to whole new levels. We’ve been extremely competitive with market pricing.”

Hitting shelves

Thanks to its collaborations with Microsoft, Qualcomm, and TI, Atheros is already has a leg up. The ROCm family is the only WLAN driver pre-installed in every copy of Windows CE 6.0; it’s also optimized for TI’s new DaVinci processor, which supports low-cost, low-power, high-performance wireless video devices; and Qualcomm’s LG phones will use the solution exclusively.

“We are delivering a solution that not only takes power consumption to new levels, but reduces time-to-market. It’s a turnkey solution,” says Bousaba.

The first client devices implementing the new chips are expected to be available late in Q2 2008. Currently, there are five products under development, with more on the way. Bousaba expects existing Atheros clients, including NEC, Fujitsu Siemens, and Sony to migrate to the chip for phones, cameras, and pother portable consumer devices.

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-FiPlanet.