Broadcom Intros New Integrated 11g Processor

Broadcom Corp. of Irvine, Calif., a leader in silicon for 802.11g-based products since late 2002, has announced their latest upgrade, a replacement to the BCM4702 network processor first announced in September of last year.

The new BCM4712 includes a baseband/MAC chip with interfaces for 10/100 Ethernet and Universal Serial Bus (USB) built in, plus the BCM2050 2.4GHz radio chip. The baseband/MAC falls under Broadcom’s 54g brand, which supports the 802.11g specification from the IEEE, which in turn falls back to work within the 802.11b specification (both specs run in the 2.4GHz radio band).

The inclusion of a USB interface will make it easier for manufacturers of access points and routers to offer a USB port option for network connections and/or as a configuration option. Some access points on the market use a serial port for direct connection to a PC which can be used to adjust the unit’s settings.

“The 4702 is the wireless LAN processor in most 54g access points and routers today, and in some dual-band access points and routers, such as the Linksys dual-band,” says Jeff Abramowitz, senior director, marketing, at Broadcom. “What we’ve done is add a level of integration, so we can decrease cost and size, and so [our] customers can offer new products on the market that are smaller and lower in cost and, in fact, have higher performance.”

Abramowitz says the performance increase will come from the chipset’s integrated 200MHz MIPS32 processor, which handles all the internal gateway and routing functions.

Like previous 802.11g products from Broadcom, the chipset also includes hardware for the acceleration of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), a requirement for eventual support of the 802.11i security specification. 11i is currently being worked on by the IEEE . The 4712 will also work with Broadcom’s OneDriver software, which includes Xpress technology, the company’s branding of a not-quite proprietary WLAN performance enhancement, which uses a bursting technology likely to be finalized with the advent of 802.11e (also under going work by the IEEE).

The 4712 chipset can interface directly with a 5GHz radio, so it can support 802.11a.

“If you want low cost dual-band, you put the 4712 with an 11a radio, and then put in an 11g miniPCI card,” says Abramowitz.

The new chipset uses an identical code set to the previous 4702. Vendors doing their own features and functions on top of the chips can bring the same features to products on the new chips with minimal changes.

Broadcom’s success in the WLAN market, 802.11g in particular, has been acknowledged by some as a reason that chip maker Intersil, which has long held the lead in the industry, recently sold its entire wireless LAN equipment business . Intersil is selling the PRISM chip line to GlobalspanVirata for $300 million to concentrate on its analog business — an area where Intersil could not integrate its WLAN products.

Integration, according to Abramowitz, is the key here. He says, WLAN support should be “an enabling technology, not a product in and off itself. To be successful, companies need to integrate WLAN support into other platforms.” He acknowledges that Globespan can do that integration with its DSL broadband products — and believes Globespan’s principal competitor in that area is likely to be Broadcom.

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