A New MIMO Player In Town

Fabless chip designer Athena Semiconductor is hoping to make a splash in the world of Wi-Fi chips soon. It’s likely to make it using TRINI—a new chipset design that puts three Wi-Fi radio frequency (RF) transceivers supporting Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO, pronounced my-moe) on a single integrated circuit.

The company, which has offices in Athens, Greece as well as in India and California, uses a low-cost CMOS designs for its chips. It already has a dual-band transceiver/radio, an 802.11g-only transceiver, and a dual-band baseband/MAC chip that works with the others. The company offers reference designs for those chips in both miniPCI and CardBus PC Card form factors.

TRINI will be a direct competitor for the chips of Airgo Networks, which specializes in MIMO chips for Wi-Fi—chips that are already available in products from Belkin and Linksys. Some MIMO-based products are being touted as “pre-802.11n,” as that future high-speed standard will likely be based heavily on MIMO. However, the specific specifications won’t be ironed out by the IEEE 802.11n Task Group for several months, if not years.

TRINI uses Athena’s OptimRF technology to do system-level digital calibration, which the company says translates to higher performance. TRINI will run as high as 200Mbps (compared to the 54Mbps data rate for standard 802.11g or 11a).

The company estimates the cost savings for manufacturers moving to TRINI could be as high as 30-40%.

Athena is working with others to perfect its chips. Samsung Electronics’ Digital Media R&D Center is a development partner on TRINI, and will be showing off the technology this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas using two HDTV streams and one standard TV stream over wireless. However, TRINI will be marketed by and available to OEMs and ODMs only through Athena.

TRINI will do more than just MIMO. It can also be used for parallel antenna systems, or “smart antenna” applications. “Companies try to improve the ratio of performance by combining the same signal over multiple antennas,” says Surendar Magar, CTO at Athena. With MIMO, you transmit on multiple antennas and channels, breaking the signal up to boost the bit rate, then combine them all again on the other end.

TRINI is in sampling now, and the company expects to ship it in a couple of months.

Athena announced today it is also working closely with ViXS Systems of Toronto in a joint development deal to make a reference design called WaveTV. It will incorporate the Athena dual-band radio with ViXS’s Matrix II video networking chip. The companies say the combo will be suitable for products like DVRs and multimedia gateways, as well as wireless in TVs and displays. They will also be showing the chips at CES.

The WaveTV design is available now to select partners, though it won’t be in mass production until the second quarter.

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