Atheros Sinks Teeth into Bluetooth

With competitors like Broadcom and Texas Instruments having brought Wi-Fi and Bluetooth together long ago, it was probably only a matter of time before Atheros Communications joined the group. The new Atheros AR3011 will be the company’s first Radio-on-Chip for Mobile (ROCm) product supporting the shorter-range wireless technology used primarily in mobile phones.

Srinivas Pattamatta, senior product marketing manager for mobile and embedded products at Atheros, says this chip will be different, as it’s optimized for the PC market, not for cellular phones. The 6x6mm square package is a single chip with minimal external components to keep the bill of materials (BOM) down. Pattamatta claims it has 60% fewer components than the competition, providing a cost savings around 20%.

“The goal,” says Pattamatta, “is to enable the adoption of Bluetooth — a more rapid adoption — in the PC space. Today’s Bluetooth solutions are general-purpose for handsets… they put it with some flash memory on a board. The feedback we get from customers (PC OEMs) is that they’d like a solution targeted toward the PC.” He says the specific target ranges from low-end desktops all the way to high-end laptops.

The AR3011 will support the Bluetooth 2.1 + Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) specification that is being finalized now by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) under the code name of Lisbon. Pattamatta says Atheros will be the first to the PC market with 2.1. The new specification will feature better quality of service, automatic change of encryption keys, and the “simple pairing” feature to improve connections between Bluetooth devices. (2.1 is not the version of Bluetooth that will be based on the WiMedia Alliance‘s version of ultrawideband technology. That will come next, and currently has the codename “Seattle.”)

Atheros will sell its Bluetooth chip paired with Wi-Fi chips supporting draft-802.11n, 802.11a/g, or 11g by itself, with all chips needed on a half miniPCI Express card for use in a laptop.

Bluetooth and 802.11g and 11n all occupy the same frequency, 2.4 GHz. “Long story short,” says Pattamatta, “we’ve got schemes that, when used together in the same client like a laptop, provide arbitration so the user sees seamless traffic. We’ll work with non-Atheros-based Wi-Fi, but we can provide enhanced benefits when used together.”

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