A Silicon Valley startup that boasts a dream team of wireless developers, including the “father” of the 802.11 protocol and the group behind Apple’s Airport technology and Intel’s Centrino chipset, has unveiled a wireless chip that it says extends the range of Wi-Fi and doubles its data rates.
Airgo Networks, of Palo Alto, Calif., announced Monday that it is sampling its Wi-Fi chipset, which uses a smart antenna technology known as MIMO (multiple input, multiple output). MIMO uses multiple antennas to send and receive radio signals.
The chipset can deliver speeds of up to 108Mbps at distances that are two or three times greater than those reached by typical 802.11a chips, according to Carl Temme, director of marketing for Airgo. For enterprises, this means a reduction in equipment costs since they would need fewer access points to cover their offices. The technology also offers enough throughput for high-quality video distribution throughout the home.
“This creates a complete shift in the economics of wireless LAN and it’s going to enable market segments that are not happening today,” Temme said.
Airgo founders Greg Raleigh and VK Jones pioneered MIMO technology when they were at Stanford University, and later at Clarity Wireless, which they started and then sold to Cisco in 1998. Today’s announcement marks the first implementation of the technology in a wireless local area network (WLAN).
“What they’ve done is truly remarkable,” said Craig Mathias, the founder of the Farpoint Group, an industry consulting firm. “They’re probably 18 months ahead of our forecast in terms of when the technology would be available.”
The quality of the team they’ve assembled is no doubt the reason for Airgo’s huge head start, he said. Richard van Nee, who holds the patents for many of the digital modulation technologies now being used in WLAN standards, including 802.11b CCK and 802.11a OFDM, joins Raleigh and Jones, along with Steffen Hahn and his team from Philips, who developed Apple’s Airport radio and Intel’s Centrino chipset.
By using multiple antennas to listen to wireless signals, Airgo has turned what is generally considered to be a disadvantage in radio communications — multipath interference — into an advantage. “You end up with multiple paths that the signal can take through space, and what used to be destructive interference now becomes constructive,” he said.
MIMO is likely to be a leading candidate for the upcoming 802.11n standard, Mathias said. The specification, which is expected to increase throughput for Wi-Fi networks to 108Mbps, won’t be finalized until 2005 or 2006.
“This represents what is likely the only viable path to getting much higher speeds in Wi-Fi systems,” he said.
The Airgo chipset (AGN100) supports 802.11 a, b, and g, as well as features of the 802.11i (security) and 802.11e (quality of service) draft specifications. Temme said that a manufacturing partner will start production on cardbus, mini-PCI, PCI and access point designs in the fall, with Airgo-based products hopefully ready by the end of the year.