A “softAP” is a software-based access point that would run on a computer, turning what’s normally a wireless client into a part of (or the main feature of) a network’s wireless LAN infrastructure. Companies like Intel and PCTEL have said they are backing this future approach to making it easier and cheaper to put WLANs in the home.
The only problem is, if you turn off a computer running a softAP, then the wireless connection goes away with it.
Chip developer Marvell
of Sunnyvale, Calif., hopes to cut past this problem with a technology it calls LiveAP. It’s an embedded 802.11g AP technology for not only PCs but even set-top boxes and game consoles — any unit that could be the centerpiece of the home media network.
“With LiveAP, when you turn off the host to conserve power, the LiveAP preserves the wireless connection. It doesn’t shut off when the host is shut off,” says Dr. James Chen, product marketing manger for WLAN products at Marvell.
The LiveAP wouldn’t require a separate power supply, but would run off the standby current available from whatever host hardware in which it resides.
Marvell currently has a couple of reference designs for the LiveAP, both of which use the company’s 88W8510 MAC/baseband chip in conjunction with the 88W8101 radio and power amplifier. One is on a PCI adapter card that would plug into a standard PC; the other has the chips mounted directly on a motherboard. Each design features an RJ45 Ethernet connector where the broadband connection from a cable or DSL modem would plug in, as well as a connector for an external antenna.
Chen sees this as a solution for the future of media center PCs. “They don’t fit in the den with your monitor, they sit next to the stereo and connect to your speakers or plasma display. LiveAP in those central locations is a great fit.” He also pictures the next generations of game consoles taking advantage of the technology, to continue their evolution into full-fledged entertainment hubs.
SoftAPs would arguably be part of may laptops, especially with Intel backing them for use with Centrino. Chen says there’s no reason LiveAP couldn’t be in laptops as well, but feels that it might not be the best fit from an application point of view.
LiveAP will have support for security including WPA and WPA2/802.11i, and for Quality of Service abilities with the forthcoming 802.11e standard.
Marvell is shooting to have LiveAP in customer products by the end of 2004. They’ll be showing the chip next week at the Networld+Interop show in Las Vegas.