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Broadcom's New 802.11n Chip Includes Bluetooth and FM

What down economy? Broadcom is thriving, in large part due to its investment in low-power combo chips. The latest offers 802.11n, Bluetooth, and FM technologies on a single silicon die.

Fabless semiconductor vendor, Broadcom, has announced the availability of its newest wireless combination chip. The new chipset goes for a trifecta with the BCM4329 by integrating 802.11n, Bluetooth, and FM technologies on a single silicon die.

“The highly integrated Broadcom chip provides significant cost, size, power, and performance advantages over discrete semiconductor implementations, making it ideal for handheld electronics,” said Clint Brown, Director of Marketing for the Embedded Wireless Business, Broadcom.

Despite the down economy, Broadcom continues to enjoy success, with 2007 revenue of $3.78 billion. Demand for GPS and other applications in smartphones and other mobile devices seems to be driving the market for combination chips. According to ABI Research, combination chips will account for nearly one-third of all wireless connectivity solutions shipped in 2012.

Broadcom believes it can tap into that sector of growth and recently announced plans to introduce a new combination chip every 60 days over the “coming months.”

“We know there’s a tough market out there,” said Brown. “We continue to show good growth--in particular, in the connectivity markets, we are in good shape. We are expanding from the legacy segment into the mobile segment where there’s a big take-up rate on smartphones and even into feature phones. It’s a good overall situation for Broadcom.”

A variety of products based on the Broadcom BCM4325, the industry’s first Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/FM chip, which offers 802.11a/b/g and was announced in 2007, are already on store shelves. Its 802.11n sibling offers a higher throughput and wider coverage area more likely to satisfy mobile device users looking for full-featured browsers, enhanced audio, and the ability to share data, such as photos or videos between their portable devices and other electronics, such as TVs, printers, and car stereos.

“We are introducing the first low-power single-stream 11n solution for the mobile space,” said Brown, “and the throughput is outstanding—it’s significant, up to 50 mbps.”

At rates like that, users can transfer large files, such a movies, more quickly, which means a lower total power consumer to complete the task. The BCM4329 employs space time block coding (STBC), an 802.11n feature that enables a mobile device to maintain a connection with an access point anywhere within an expanded coverage area. 

“In our analyst day presentations, we did a skit with people getting ready to leave for a trip,” said Brown. “One had 11n with STBC, which improves sensitivity, so you get a higher overall throughput; and we compared that with a person who just had standard 802.11g. They each downloaded 40 songs and two movies over Wi-Fi and it took about 13 minutes for the 11n single stream with STBC, and almost 40 minutes with 11g. There are clear benefits that can be applied.”

The BCM4329 includes both FM transmit and receive capabilities, which enables end users to stream music directly from a personal media player (PMP) or mobile phone to a car stereo or a home theater system—anything with an FM receiver.

“FM receive is already a popular feature,” said Brown. “It enables consumers to obtain real-time traffic information, as well as listen to music, news, and sports broadcasts on their mobile phone.”

The BCM4329 combination chip is now sampling to early access customers and is scheduled for production in 2009. Pricing is available upon request.

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She covers wireless technology from her office in Western Massachusetts.