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Latest TI Chip Targets Embedded Wi-Fi

Dallas-based Texas Instruments is introducing the next generation of its 802.11b chip. The TNETW1100B is a Medium Access Controller (MAC) and baseband processor that the company says significantly reduces power consumption for WLAN-enabled devices. It also reduces the size (down to 12x12 millimeters), which they hope will help drive embedded 802.11b in products like phones and PDAs. All the better for wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) and wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) convergence to come.

Looking at the future of embedded Wi-Fi, says Matt Kurtz, WLAN product marketing manager at TI's WLAN Business Unit, gave the company insight into "a new set of things to care about. You can't apply the same chip [to new products]. It has to be unique and adoptable on a large scale."

The 'care abouts' Kurtz noted were power consumption ("the bulk of usage is in standby mode," probably 95%, he estimates), chip size, and, of course, cost.

Cost is already low and gets, according to Kurtz, "most of the credit for where WLANs are today. There were some magic thresholds crossed for things like PC Cards." Even so, the chip is expected to have a bill of materials (BOM) cost of less than $20.

To meet the power-saving requirements in the new TNETW1100B (which follows internal naming conventions at Texas Instruments, unlike the current ACX100) the company uses Extra Low Power (ELP) technology, the same they use in cell phones. In standby, the TNETW1100B uses less than 2 milliWatts(mW) at the chip level. They estimate a PDA using this chip will get 25% more battery life; laptops running a miniPCI or PC Card-based Wi-Fi connection will used 75% less energy, which Kurtz says is a 6% battery boost over the nearest competition. "This is a ten time improvement in system level standby," says Kurtz. "This is the core, killer value of the chip."

To save space, the TNETW1100B is only 12x12 mm in size, compared to the 16x16 mm of the ACX100 -- about 44% smaller. However, the TNETW1100B can be used in existing products using an available pin-for-pin ACX100-compatible package.

The TNETW1100B will continue to use TI's PBCC modulation to deliver 22Mbps data rates for products using TI's chipsets. This Wi-Fi speed boost, sometimes referred to as "802.11b+", has been adopted by companies like D-Link, SMC, and US Robotics for its home and SOHO WLAN products. The new chip also supports Complementary Code Keying (CCK) operation to boost speeds even when used with other 802.11b chip sets. It supports WEP encryption up to 256-bit.

"The same high performance solutions we've had for retail, we want that in the PDA and smart phone and Web pad space," says Kurtz. "There are WLAN PDAs out there today, but we want to drive beyond that to meet the needs for power consumption."

Developers can use the Embedded Station Design Kit to tailor the TNETW1100B to the needs of embedded operating systems such as Symbian or PocketPC. The Kit includes sample reference designs to accelerate development, plus hardware and programming design tools.

The TNETW1100B is sampling with TI customers right now and should go into full production in the late fourth quarter of 2002. The on-chip host interfaces include PCI/miniPCI, CardBus, USB 1.1, Compact Flash, PCMCIA, and 16-bit slave (for connecting to a network processor).

The chip will be partnered with a one-chip radio from Maxim Integrated Products, of Sunnyvale, CA.

The ACX100 will continue to be available for a while, but Kurtz says in a few months it will likely be phased out in favor of the new chip. The TNETW1100B will keep the same price -- there won't be a price reduction for the new silicon.

Eric Griffith is the managing editor of 802.11 Planet.