LONDON Bluetooth silicon developer Cambridge Silicon Radio Ltd. (Cambridge, England) promises to be up and running by midyear 2002 with an all-CMOS 802.11a chip for 54-Mbit/second wireless networking in the 5-GHz band.
The move to 802.11a is part of CSR's vision of "short-hop connectivity through picocells and piconets, both within buildings and potentially outside, as the access mode of choice" for high-speed Internet connectivity, said Glenn Collinson, marketing director and cofounder of CSR. That vision eschews the model of Internet access through WANs, via mobile phones.
It also has CSR bypassing 802.11b, the 11-Mbit/s, 2.45-GHz wireless standard now taking off mainly in the United States for both the home and office.
"We don't see .11b as being low-enough cost to be integrated, and it's too slow," said Collinson. "It's neither fish nor fowl, in that it's too expensive for low-cost applications and too slow for highe r-speed applications [that could support the cost]." The 802.11a spec, at 54 Mbits/s, solves that problem.
CSR is turning its attention to 802.11a after having ramped production of its BlueCore 01 single-chip-CMOS Bluetooth radio and baseband. In the two months since production began at an STMicroelectronics fab, CSR has sold and shipped about 250,000 chips.
The company claims to have 200 BlueCore customers in four regions: Japan (40 percent); Asia-Pacific (30 to 40 percent); North America (20 percent); and Europe (10 to 15 percent). "PCs and PC cards will be the first applications," said Collinson. "By year's end, however, phone applications will outpace all the others combined." Already, the company is claiming design wins for IS-95 phones in Japan.
"No one else is offering a fully certified, fully engineered [i.e., firmware included on the chip] solution in volume," said Collinson. BlueCore 02, with a 4-Mbit flash integrated on board, will sell for $7 or $8, he said.
BlueCore 02 is expect ed to tape out by the end of March at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and is expected to be ready for prime time by year's end. Collinson expects the price to drop by mid-2002 to $5, a figure often cited as the cost at which Bluetooth could head into mainstream designs.
All firmware on the chip is qualified to Bluetooth Standard 1.0b, including the critical errata, which will be added to the 1.1 specification to be voted on this coming week. The critical errata refer to corrections to flow-control issues in the RFCOMM, L2CAP and LM layers of the protocol stack.
While Bluetooth will cater to the personal-area-network segment of CSR's vision, 802.11a will cater to the local-area network.
Competitors in the latter segment include Atheros Communications (Sunnyvale, Calif.) and Cisco Systems Inc. (San Jose, Calif.). Both announced prototypes of all-CMOS 802.11a implementations in mid-2000, but neither has yet announced production readiness. (Cisco acquired its 802.11a capability when it bought Radiata.)
Also targeting 5-GHz operation, Ericsson (Kista, Sweden) recently played its wireless-LAN card when it announced that it had demonstrated a prototype HiperLAN 2 network with its own ASICs.
CSR is not the only company looking to bypass 802.11b. "We're opting for either 802.11a or HiperLAN 2, as we don't see the market potential being there for 802.11b in terms of volumes or cost," said Gerry McGuire, vice president and general manager of the wireless business unit for Parthus Technologies plc (Dublin, Ireland), an RF intellectual-property company.
But the reasons for jumping to 802.11a might have more to do with fear of competition in 802.11b than with price and integration questions, said Mike Mester, manager of applications for Bluetooth chip manufacturer Silicon Wave Inc. "There are millions of 802.11b chips and devices being shipped today. It's a tough market to break into, especially for relative newcomers," he said.
Silicon Wave recently announced a cooperative agreement with Intersil Corp., one of two primary providers of 802.11b chip sets, to develop a Bluetooth/802.11b combination solution.