DENVER Swedish startup Spirea AB is using RF CMOS design expertise to expand from its Bluetooth base into wireless LANs. Fresh from a new funding round in a tight financial year, Spirea executives toured the United States last week to disclose plans for an analog front end that can handle 802.11a, 802.11b or HiperLAN RF functions.
Current production plans call for the company's original Bluetooth power amp and Bluetooth transceiver to enter general sampling before the TripleTrac wireless LAN device, said Anders Oldeback, Spirea's vice president of marketing and sales. But Spirea founders realized they needed more RF options than Bluetooth, given that standard's slow acceptance.
Spirea is looking for digital baseband partners with which to co-market the TripleTrac device. The first such ally is Embedded Wireless Devices Inc. (Pleasanton, Calif.), which will combine its Valhalla multiprotocol network processor with the Spirea analog front e nd to create a two-piece chip set marketed by both companies. Oldeback said the agreement is nonexclusive for both companies, though as a practical matter, Spirea will keep its alliances to a handful to maintain them properly.
Spirea was informally founded in 1998, when several researchers from Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology began joint research with Dr. Mohammed Ismail of the Ohio University's VLSI Research Center. It was incorporated in early 2000, when Johnny Johansson, former head of Ericsson's Bluetooth development program, joined as president and chief executive. An initial round of 0.35-micron CMOS RF products was designed for Bluetooth, but when Spirea went out for its first round of funding in 2000, the founders decided to expand RF designs to 802.11x and HiperLAN.
"We could see, even in companies based in Sweden who were struggling with Bluetooth, that we needed to take a new look at our expertise base and expand the markets served," said Oldeback. "Bluetoo th will happen, but it may happen initially as a connection for the future 3G phone, which means much hinges on vendors like Nokia. The small size and power dissipation of our chips will make them very good for a Bluetooth market centered on the phone, but we didn't want to wait until that Bluetooth market developed."
Spirea shifted to a 0.18-micron CMOS process at its fab, United Microelectronics Corp., and assigned a team to design RF components for 802.11 from scratch.
One of the reasons Spirea has not seen immediate competition from larger analog companies, Oldeback said, is that too many companies want to convert older bipolar designs to CMOS. To take advantage of CMOS-specific design rules, such as the four-terminal architecture of the MOS transistor, RF devices must be designed for specific optimization with CMOS. The resulting design puts loop filters and voltage-controlled oscillators in an analog front end. Spirea has not seen this claim from any competitor nor has it seen RF devices that o perate for 802.11 from a 1.8-volt supply, dissipating less than 40 milliwatts.
TripleTrac integrates all functions of transmit and receive, requiring no external power amps, channel filters or VCOs. It can be configured digitally to handle data rates extending to 22 Mbits/second in 802.11b mode, or 108 Mbits/s in 802.11a mode.
The RF part could easily meet the frequency ranges for the 2.4- and 5-GHz unlicensed bands used by the two generations of 802.11. The HiperLAN standard was added because it operated in the same frequency, though Oldeback said that even in Europe, HiperLAN remains a niche application. "We are ready to support HiperLAN, but we do not see a lot of design activity today," he said.
Both the Bluetooth and wireless LAN devices will be priced at low commodity levels to meet the constraints of high-volume consumer devices embedding LANs or Bluetooth, Oldeback said. Pricing for the TripleTraC will be announced as sampling begins in the second quarter of 2002.